The 2019 Miami Dolphins offensive line was newsworthy for all the wrong reasons. New players rotating in on a weekly basis and a distinct lack of unity and talent made for grim reading.
You could surmise that these and the mind-boggling complexity of offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea’s playbook, which even the most cerebral football minds in the locker room struggled to grasp all played their part in what was beginning to be described as the worst offensive line in the history of football.
There is an argument to say that the offensive line is a more important entity than the Quarterback, for without adequate pass protection or run blocking, you remove the ability for the skill players to produce those magical moments of individual talent as fans we love to see.
Each Lineman is like a brother in arms, relying on his fellow warriors to attack as a unit rather than individuals, and this bond and unity isn’t something that can be easily pulled together overnight and it’s not something that can be faked.
The o-line needs stability
Put bluntly, if the O-Line doesn’t perform, it impacts and impedes other players’ abilities to perform. One could argue (to name but a few) Josh Rosen and Kallen Ballage, although in no way without blame, might have played much better were they to have had more time to throw and open channels to run through respectively.
Ahead of the 2020 season some of these issues have thankfully been addressed, from an influx of experienced and raw talent to expecting a more simplified and streamlined playbook. But with such expectations and need to improve, let alone the added responsibility of protecting the new franchise poster boy, are the Miami Dolphins where they need to be to move forward?
Well, the good news is that they can’t be any worse than they were in 2019. They found themselves at the bottom of the league in virtually every metric available to evaluate offensive play. You also had a rookie in Michael Dieter, struggling with his development due to the poor play of those around him.
So who do we think will be the front 5 coming into the new season? Well it’s virtually a given that it includes rookie Austin Jackson at Left Tackle, Erik Flowers at Left Guard and Ted Karras at Center. Big bodied, strong and good scheme fits, it will be a surprise if these aren’t the names starting in 2020.
The right side of the line throws up a few more options (and concerns) with rookies Robert Hunt, Solomon Kindley, and Jesse Davis all vying for the Right Guard and Right Tackle positions. Hunt and Kindley are exciting prospects but starting two rookies next to each might not be advantageous, particularly as Kindley is somewhat raw.
Hunt has the ability to play at both Guard and Tackle, as does Davis so this may provide a bit of flexibility along the offensive line. Early indications seem to point to the coaching staff favouring Hunt at Tackle, so it could be his position to lose.
The biggest worry with the right side of the line is how quickly it can be solidified and fortified. With the introduction of Tua a constant talking point (see here) it’s vital that this particular section of the line is competent by the time the fans are introduced to their new superstar.
An important fact we need to consider is that this team is still in the re-building phase and the offensive line we see in week 1 2020, in all likeliness won’t be the same line we see in week 1 in 2021. Ted Karras is on a one year deal, and while still only 27, it’s unlikely that he will be the long term solution at Center.
There is also a lot of faith being put in Hunt and Davis to provide the protection for Tua on his blind side, and if they decide Hunt is better suited at Guard, I’m not sure how happy I feel about that responsibility being hoisted on the shoulders of Davis.
A name that has recently come into play is that of three-time pro bowler Larry Warford. At 28 there would still be plenty of production available and there is enough cap space for his projected $7 million a year salary.
A 2-year deal would provide an instant upgrade fro the offensive line, would provide him with the chance for one more pay-out before he retires and could help in the development of rookies Hunt and Kindley.
There is, however, a counter-argument that by signing him it actually inhibits their growth, limiting their snap counts and slowing down their progress. Personally I don’t buy into that argument, and I think pairing a seasoned and elite level Guard like Warford on the inside of Hunt would only improve his game. This would give Kindley a season to progress and grow and get some game time with the aim of becoming a long-term starter.
While the front office have worked hard to improve a line we all want to forget about, it is by no means the finished article and I wouldn’t be surprised If further reinforcements are added, either via free agency, the 2021 draft or both.
For now, it’s a huge step in the right direction and it’s exciting to see how the offensive line is going to not just improve as a unit but to help facilitate improvements in both the passing and the run game.