While Miami Dolphins fans (and the coaching staff) are very interested in the amount of time it will take quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to get up to speed because the rookie hasn’t had the benefit of an offseason program, won’t get a preseason, and training camp will be abridged, seemingly no one is discussing something more important...
....Keeping defenders off him.
No one is really talking about finding good offensive line play and how that is important to all Dolphins quarterbacks. And how this year’s difficult circumstances might put the Dolphins in an especially tough situation up front.
While all clubs will get on the field for walk-thru work or OTA type workouts without pads in the next couple of weeks, no team is going to get into serious padded practices until the middle of August. And even those padded practices will be limited in number before the start of the season
That means the men who rely on hitting, in pads, in practice and in preseason games to hone their abilities, might not be as sharp as everyone expects before the 2020 regular season actually kicks off.
Teams won’t be able to work on pad level. And they won’t be able to get as much time together as usual to set line chemistry.
This isn’t just a problem the Dolphins offensive line will encounter. The issue is on the agenda of coaches around the league.
“We’re going to have 14 days in pads,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday. “That is not a lot of time to get ready to play in a ballgame against really quality opponents, but we’re going to have to get it done.”
The challenge facing the Dolphins will be greater than many teams because their offensive line is quite young. And isn’t really set.
The Miami line is a wall waiting for a foundation.
The truth is the Dolphins have probably two spots on the line that are set -- left guard Ereck Flowers and center Ted Karras seem to be the starters at their position at this stage.
Everything else is kind of uncertain.
At left tackle, the Dolphins want and need first round pick Austin Jackson to win the job. At right tackle they want second-round pick Robert Hunt to win the job soon if not eventually. And veteran Jesse Davis, who has started at both right tackle and right guard the past several years, might be the starter at either position in 2020.
But all that has to play out. What if the rookies struggle? What about injuries or a COVID episode? So, yes, there are the typical issues aside from 2020’s unique uncertainties.
As for the backups, most offensive line coaches love to mix and match to find the best five lineman to put on the field. They love to give players a chance to compete at multiple positions to ensure position flexibility, in case the season brings injuries. (The Dolphins seem set to try this with second-year pro Michael Deiter, who could work at guard and center).
But the Dolphins usually do all this in the span of seven weeks. This year, all NFL teams will have approximately four weeks between the middle of August and the start of the regular season.
The Dolphins obviously set themselves up well for a routine offseason by compiling what seems to be a lot of promising players to compete for line positions.
At guard, Danny Isidora, Shaq Calhoun, Deiter, Shaq Calhoun, and Keaton Sutherland, have all started games and the club obviously has high hopes for rookie Kindley Solomon.
At center, Deiter and Sutherland might compete for the interior flex player while rookie Donnell Stanley gets a chance to show what he can do.
And at tackle, Julie’n Davenport is a veteran option if young players such as Hunt and Jackson don’t immediately step up.
That’s lots of solid options. Lots of possible combinations. The problem is this isn’t a routine offeseason and the team won’t get a routine training camp.
New offensive line coach Steve Marshall and assistant OL coach Lemuel Jeanpierre are going to get very little time to make it work -- to make sure the Miami offensive line can protect the quarterback.