The passing of the baton at the starting left guard position was always going to be a slow, deliberate handoff rather than a sudden toss. Today, at Miami Dolphins training camp, we witnessed the truest most obvious signs that the handoff is happening.
Dallas Thomas, who was the starting left guard in the preseason opener at the New York Giants, saw fewer first-team snaps today than rookie first-round pick Laremy Tunsil. Indeed, Tunsil has been getting a period or so more reps at left guard with the starters than Thomas this week, coach Adam Gase said.
But today was different. Today was more jarring.
Today was mostly all Tunsil with the exception of maybe one team drill period that Thomas got work with the ones.
And this: To this reporter's naked eye, it was obvious Tunsil was doing really well. Like really, really well.
Take one period for example: On first down Tunsil, matched against veteran defensive lineman Jason Jones, got both his hands on Jones quickly and as Jones seemed to stumble, the offensive linemen used his leverage to take Jones to the ground.
Win for Tunsil.
Next down, Jones kept his feet. But Tunsil held his ground. Stalemate.
Win for Tunsil.
Next down, Ndamukong Suh moved over the rookie's head and the two went at it one-on-one. And another stalemate, which obviously is a win for the offensive lineman.
Win for Tunsil.
Now, I'm not saying his technique was perfect. I'm not saying Tunsil had a strong punch or his hand placement was perfect. I'm just saying the guy drafted No. 13 overall in the first round for the expressed purpose of blocking people did exactly that against quality competition in a team drill -- with tons of activity and stuff happening all around.
Later, I saw Tunsil pick up a stunt with no issue.
"We're just going through our process," Gase said. "I'm pretty sure if we had five periods the other day, he was in three of them. So every day it's like two or three periods he's been starting but it doesn't seem like anybody notices."
So what is the next step of the process?
I suppose the next step is to get Tunsil playing time against better competition. Against starting-caliber players. In a game.
I'm not saying Tunsil will start against the Dallas Cowboys. (He should, in my opinion, but whatever). I'm saying Tunsil is likely to see work with the starting unit in the Cowboys game even if the Dolphins remain true to their depth chart and start Dallas Thomas.
Maybe Thomas gets a series with the ones. Maybe Tunsil gets a series or two with the ones.
Gase is intent on sticking to his process. He doesn't have the luxury of simply sticking players we all know are eventually going to be out there, out there. He has to weigh other things. He has to, in other words, do his job for another two weeks before we see the end result that will be the Dolphins offensive line against the Seattle Seahawks in the regular season opener.
"I just look at a guy like Jermon Bushrod who has been a left tackle his whole career and moves to right guard, and it's not easy when you go from being a tackle, especially when you're flipping to another side, and be a guard," Gase said.
"It takes a minute. It takes a minute to understand the angles. It takes a minute to understand those guys are bigger and stronger than what you're used to. That's why you can't rush and just throw them in there. This is a league where confidence does matter. And I've seen rookies before where everybody's saying, 'rookie's got to play.' And two years later everybody's calling for his head. So right now we're going through process we can go through."
Gotcha, coach. Process. We're processing the process of processing the process.
Now put Laremy Tunsil in there as a starter. He's ready.
Branden Albert, who will be starting at left tackle as usual against the Cowboys Friday, got Tuesday off as a rest day.
The Dolphins have three players from which they would love major contributions on inactive lists.
Dion Jordan is on the non-football injury (NFI) list as he rebahs his knee surgery. Cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Chris Culliver are on the physically unable to perform list as they come back from their knee surgeries.
Culliver is going to be a while as he continues to come back and will probably start the season on the physically unable to perform list, as I've reported.
Howard is further ahead than Jordan, Gase said today.
"I don't want to say an exact date yet," Gase said, "because when we're going through that process that we're going through you could always have minor setbacks that could push them back. So when the right time to take one of those guys off, then we'll do it. We want to make sure we get the checkmarks done with the sports science, the trainers and the strength staff and obviously the kid saying, 'I feel good. I'm good, I'm ready to go.' "
Howard has been running and cutting aggressively on the sidelines while the team practices. He looks good but obviously there are measures the Dolphins are considering that the eye test simply cannot gauge.
But if the Dolphins are going to have Howard ready for the season-opener against the Seattle Seahawks, as the team is hoping, that means he's got three weeks and four days to get healthy, get practicing, get in football shape and be ready to play.
Howard obviously is not playing Friday night against Dallas in the second preseason game. It's hard to see him playing next week against Atlanta in the third preseason game even if he's activated for the week of practice.
So might he possibly be able to get in the last one preseason game Tennessee Sept. 1?
It all depends on how quickly Howard catches on and whether he suffers setbacks.
Jordan is a bit tougher to figure. He seems destined for the regular season NFI. That will make him eligible to return at some point during the season.
The reasons he seems likely to remain on NFI is he has simply missed so much and is so far behind, he cannot possibly earn a roster spot as the fifth defensive end ahead of players who have been working, practicing, playing for three weeks -- Chris McCain, Terrence Fede, Cleyon Laing, Cedric Reed, or Julius Warmsley. Well, he can be granted the spot, but earn it? No.
And the Dolphins aren't going to simply waive Jordan.
So he's apparently headed for a regular season inactive list.
Today was something of an interesting start to practice as receiver coach Shawn Jefferson donned shoulder pads and a helmet and a protective shield and went after some of his receivers in a contact drill.
Consider Herald photographer extraordinaire Charles Trainor Jr's video of the event and the reaction afterward:
"The whole point of that is an emphasis of tracking the safety, figuring out the angle [the receivers] have to take," Gase said. "Shawn is trying to emphasize the tempo they need to go at to take a guy out."
Hazel, by the way, got into a little jawing with his coach after their collision.
"I noticed that when Jakeem Grant got out there, [Jefferson] was like, 'Alright we're done,' " Gase said.
Running back Arian Foster, who was held out of the team's preseason opener last week, is almost certain to play Friday night against the Cowboys.
"Right now I'm pretty sure he's going to go," Gase said. "I want to see him get in there with that first group. I want to see him get a feel for how we operate."