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Big shakeup for 2016 Dolphins offensive line? No

I ask Dan Campbell why it is the Miami Dolphins offensive line is not a team strength despite the fact the team has invested free agency money and draft picks and more free agency money, and more draft picks on the unit over the past half-dozen or so years -- all of them of which the interim coach has seen because he's been an assistant in Miami that long.

And Campbell looks at me like, "Dude, you're killing me because you know the answer."

But he doesn't say that. He says, “That’s a pretty good question."

And then he pauses and thinks.

And thinks.

And thinks.

"I think some of it is – to begin with, I’m not trying to make excuses," Campbell says, "but I guess one of the first things I think of is for example this year, (Mike) Pouncey has clearly been our most consistent player and he’s steady as a rock. BA (LT Branden Albert) is coming off a massive injury and we’re fortunate that we’ve even had him, to be honest with you. That’s tough to come back from in less than a year from where he did. He was a little bit shaky early in the year, he battled – he just wasn’t the old BA, but he’s gotten better and better.

"We lost Ja’Wuan (James) and that’s hurt us with consistency. Really even Dallas (Thomas) and Billy (Turner) ...first of all, this is the first year that we’ve had Dallas Thomas play a full year at guard because he really finished at tackle for us. Then, Billy Turner is a second-year guy who got no playing time last year other than a couple of snaps at tackle at the end of last year.

"I guess to answer your question, it’s hard to make it a strength when there’s no consistency. We really haven’t had a chance for those five guys to grow together the way you would ordinarily like. That would be off the top of my head."

I appreciate Dan Campbell. He's an honest guy. A good man. I voted for him in the annual "Good guy" award balloting done by the local media to pick a Dolphins player that has been most cooperative. No, he's not a player. I don't care. I voted for Dan Campbell.

But here's the thing that he didn't and couldn't say: The moves the Dolphins have made along the offensive line for years have failed to deliver a good offensive line because the players have consistently failed to live up to expectations.

The drafting of Jake Long No. 1 overall in 2008 was a mistake, especially considering Long was out of the league earlier this season, didn't last beyond his rookie contract with the Dolphins, and two left tackles -- Ryan Clady and Branden Albert -- taken in that draft have had better careers.

The free agent additions of Justin Smiley and Jake Grove added two free agency busts and both were gone from the team within a couple of years.

The drafting of John Jerry in the 2010 draft's third round? Mistake, especially considering Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders, NaVorro Bowman, Everson Griffen and Jimmy Graham were taken later that round.

The signing of Marc Colombo, Tyson Clabo and paying pf Vernon Carey? That failed.

And don't get me started on the drafting of Jonathan Martin in the second round in 2012.

So that's why it has taken so long to get this unit right. Resources have been squandered year after year, personnel department after personnel department, coaching staff after coaching staff.

And the folks on the job now are not without responsibility.

Mike Pouncey has worked out. He was drafted in the first round and has delivered. And he was paid in the offseason and so far, so good -- although he is not a sure-fire Pro Bowl talent.

But James in the first round last year did not take the significant step in his second year to live up to his draft status. Yes, I know he's been injured. He wasn't outstanding before he got hurt. And, as Bill Parcells told me once, one of the abilities we have to measure is durability.

Same with Albert. If he can stay healthy going forward, great. But the jury is out on him beyond this season relative to him regaining the dominance he showed in the games he played for the Dolphins before the knee injury in 2014.

That leaves us Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas. Neither are blue chippers at this point. On most weeks, both struggle to be C players.

ProFootballFocus.com, flawed as it may or may not be, grades Turner No. 75 among 82 guards it grades. PFF also grades Thomas No. 81 among the 82 guards it grades. So, bad.

And is this a surprise to anyone? Did the entire Earth not complain about the prospects of Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner being Miami's starting guards in 2015 well before 2015 began? And, I recognize had the Dolphins gone out and improved their guard play by upgrading the talent at the position this offseason, the Dolphins still might not be a winning team.

But if a schmoe can understand this was going to be an issue, why didn't the Dolphins?

One more thing: Evan Mathis, available to the Dolphins for $4 million as late as July, is not playing to his previous high level in Philadelphia. He's grading out as the No. 12 guard in the NFL, per ProFootballFocus.com. So 12th among 82 guards is not Pro Bowl caliber.

But No. 12 compared to No. 75 or No. 81. Oy.   

And now for the worse news: Ready?

Barring a significant shift, the Dolphins might be tempted to go into the 2016 season with generally the same offensive line as in 2015. Wait, that's wrong. Jason Fox is not included in that. The team is not happy with him as a No. 3 offensive tackle and that may cost him his job before next season. But Albert, Pouncey, James, Turner, and Thomas?

They're coming back. And they're probably going get a grand opportunity to be the starters again next training camp.

Yes, there may be a new coach. There may be a new system. But the Senior Vice President, Mike Tannenbaum, is not going anywhere. And he makes the ultimate decisions on personnel.

And he's got other pressing issues, folks. They need to address the defensive end spot. They need to address the middle linebacker spot. The past few weeks have shown they need a cornerback and probably a safety in an urgent way.

In other words, the Dolphins feel like they have a lot of work to do before they get around to guard. Oh, we might see one on the draft's third day. But signature free agent signing? Or first day draft pick to improve the offensive line?

Unlikely at this point.

What would that mean? It means the most likely way the Miami offensive line is going to improve is through experience and cohesion and working together, as Campbell said. But if you're waiting for Larry Little, Dwight Stephenson and Bob Kuechenberg to come through that offseason door ... you're probably going to be disappointed.

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