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After five years of big money and high draft picks, Dolphins o-line still erratic

Please check back later tonight for the Wednesday buzz, filled with Canes, Fins, Heat and Marlins tidbits.

 

First, though, some thoughts on the Dolphins' offensive line, which continues to exasperate at times:

Since Jeff Ireland arrived as general manager in 2008, the Dolphins have spent more money and used more top four-round draft choices on offensive line that any position.

Some of those decisions have paid dividends, including drafting emerging center Mike Pouncey, but the harsh reality is this:

Five years later, the Dolphins are still left with a unit that can’t consistently dislodge defenders in the run game, has two many breakdowns in pass protection, and can’t dominate an opposing defense for more than short occasional stretches.

“The offense line just hasn’t played as well” as it needs to, ESPN’s Ron Jaworski said off air today. “Jake Long, I know he has nursed some injuries, but these are all pro players. There has been inconsistency on the offensive line.”

For some perspective on how much money and resources have been devoted to the line, consider:

### Since Ireland became GM in 2008 (Bill Parcells was alongside and in charge until 2010), Miami not only used its first Dolphins draft pick  – and the No. 1 overall choice in 2008 – on Jake Long and commited $58 million to him, but remember this, too: the first player it signed in free agency were offensive linemen in three of those five offseasons: Justin Smiley ($25 million in 2008), Joe Berger (less than $2 million) and then Jake Grove ($29.5 million) in 2009 and Artis Hicks ($1.3 million) in 2012.

They also have spent more than $9 million over the past three years on Richie Incognito, who has done generally good work.

Of course, Smiley, Grove and Hicks never made it to the end of their contracts. Neither did Vernon Carey, who was signed to a six-year, $42 million extension in 2009, but was ordered to shave the last two years off his deal as part of a 2011 pay cut. Other free agents came and went, including Pat McQuistan and Ray Willis.

Then there’s the draft. Besides taking Long first, the Dolphins also invested draft picks on Shawn Murphy (a fourth-round washout), sixth-rounder Donald Thomas (who has started five games for the Patriots this season), sixth-rounder Andrew Gardner (never panned out), 2010 third-rounder John Jerry (starting at right guard), Pouncey (picked 15th in 2011 and now blossoming), and 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin (starting at right tackle.).

The current group of starters – Long, Incognito, Pouncey, Jerry and Martin – has played well at times but not nearly as well or consistently as the Dolphins expect. The Dolphins rank only 28th in rushing yards per attempt (3.6), and Joe Philbin attributes that primarily to substandard blocking (though receivers, backs and tight ends also are to blame).

“We’ve got to get our run game back on track, do a better job sustaining blocks and moving people,” Long said this week.

Said Incognito: “We have to create more space. We should be able to run against any look. It’s frustrating because we know what type of running game we can be.”

According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins have had their most success running directly behind Incognito (5.1 per carry) and Pouncey (4.5 to his left, 4.3 to his right). Conversely, the Dolphins are averaging 3.3 per rush behind Jerry, 2.7 behind Martin and 2.2 to the right edge on Martin’s side.

As for Long, the news is mixed, according to PFF. Runs to the edge on the left side – with Long blocking – are averaging a robust 4.8, but runs directly behind him are averaging 2.9.

PFF, which analyzes every play of every game, ranks Long 44th overall among all tackles, down from second in 2009 and 2010 and 21st last year. Though he has battled injuries in 2010 and 2011, he said he feels fully healthy and believes he is playing well. “I’m my biggest critic,” he said.

PFF ranks Martin 65th among 71 tackles. He has allowed four sacks and permitted 28 quarterback hurries, among the highest totals among tackles. “I’ve played well at times, bad at times,” he said. “I want to be consistent.”

Among 78 qualifying guards, PFF ranks Jerry 53rd and Incognito 58th, with Jerry listed as allowing two sacks and Incognito three.

Jerry, who won a starting job partly by getting in better shape, “has good size, good athleticism,” Philbin said today. “He has not been on the ground as much as early on. He has a chance to be a good player.”

Pouncey has been the unit’s most consistent player. PFF ranks him second among centers behind only Minnesota’s John Sullivan. He hasn’t allowed a sack and permitted just one hurry.

Excluding Pouncey, pass protection has been shaky at times. The Dolphins rank 17th in sacks-allowed-per-play play, with 27 permitted in 10 games. Long and Martin each have been responsible for four.

 

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