The last time Austin Jackson played guard was his final game as a high school player during the U.S. Army All-American Game before heading off to the University of Southern California. That was four-and-a-half years ago.
“I was like 17,” said Jackson, now 22 years old and in his second season with the Miami Dolphins. “I went down there and they had brought like nine tackles, so big Tristan Wirfs [now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers] was at left tackle and I was at left guard.”
But there Jackson was on Sunday, during the Dolphins’ 45-17 loss to the Buccaneers, starting at left guard as Miami continued its early-season offensive line shuffling.
Their combination Sunday — rookie Liam Eichenberg at left tackle, Jackson at left guard, Greg Mancz at center, Robert Hunt at right guard and Jesse Davis at right tackle — was the Dolphins’ fifth different starting offensive line in as many games to start the season.
The Dolphins liked what they saw from the group in spurts Sunday but are hoping to see more stability as the season progresses, starting with Sunday’s game in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We’ve had some plug and play with some different players,” co-offensive coordinator George Godsey said. “The more cohesive and consistent we can be with the same people out there, the better off we’ll be.”
That cohesiveness and consistency comes with cohesive and consistent repetitions, especially for the younger players. Eichenberg, one of the Dolphins’ second-round picks in the 2021 draft, has started four games — two each at left tackle and right tackle. Jackson, a first-round pick in 2020, has played in 18 games with 16 starts, with every start before Sunday being at left tackle. Hunt, a second-round pick in 2020, has played 21 games games with 16 starts between right tackle and right guard.
“I think that’s every O-line’s goal is to play with each other and have it solidified,” Davis said. “We’re week-to-week is kind of how we handle this. Who’s the best we got and we’re going to play with that. If you’re out there, then that’s who we’re playing with.”
Equally as important, according to Mancz: Communication
“As we continue to get more comfortable with each other, maybe the communication becomes more almost like we are completing each other’s sentences,” Mancz said. “But I feel like there is a dialogue, if you will, every play between all the positions. That’s pivotal to improving your play, being able to know what everyone else is doing.”
Tua practices again
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa practiced for a second consecutive day after missing the past three games due to fractured ribs and is trending toward starting Sunday against the Jaguars.
“Tua has stepped in,” wide receiver Jaylen Waddle said, “and been himself.”
Coach Brian Flores has said the Dolphins would evaluate Tagovailoa as practices progress and make a decision about whether he would start Sunday. He still needs to be activated from injured reserve before being eligible to play, but that’s merely a formality.
More injury updates
Cornerback Xavien Howard (shoulder/groin) and wide receiver DeVante Parker (shoulder/hamstring) did not participate in practice for a second consecutive day.
Meanwhile, quarterback Jacoby Brisset (hamstring), cornerback Byron Jones (Achilles), tight end Adam Shaheen (knee) and wide receiver Preston Williams (groin) were limited. Williams’ injury is the only new one added to the injury report, but also means three of the Dolphins’ top receivers are hurt with Will Fuller also on injured reserve.