DAVIE (CBSMiami) – Despite spending millions of dollars on free agents and multiple draft picks, the Miami Dolphins offensive line remains a primary source of fan angst heading into the 2013 season, but should it be?
The Fins are set at three positions on the offensive line: left guard with Richie Incognito; center with Mike Pouncey; and right tackle with Tyson Clabo. All three are Pro Bowl caliber offensive linemen that form a solid foundation for the line.
But, injuries have taken their toll at right guard with the Dolphins trying multiple players and combinations in the position trying to find the right fit. The latest candidate is Lance Louis who is coming off a serious knee injury last season.
Louis was signed as a free agent during the offseason and if he’s healthy could be an upgrade over John Jerry, who is battling injuries in training camp. Louis started the first 11 games of the season for the Chicago Bears last season at right guard and was a starter the previous season as well.
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was asked about Louis on Tuesday and he indicated that the staff was still evaluating the guard to see if he’s ready for contact. Louis did take part in practice on Tuesday and was plugged in at right guard.
The other candidates for the right guard position include last year’s starter, Jerry, and second-year player Josh Samuda.
Dolphins fans, and some writers, have also been concerned with the left tackle position. Specifically, fans want to know if second-year pro Jonathan Martin can make the switch from right tackle to left tackle at the NFL level.
Martin spent four years at Stanford as a left tackle tasked with guarding the blind side for quarterback Andrew Luck. When he came to Miami, Martin was switched to right tackle and struggled at times during the season.
He was switched back to left tackle when last year’s starter, Jake Long, went down with an injury. Martin showed both flashes of great play and also looking like a turnstile at other times.
“I think any left tackle in his second year in this league is a work in progress, and I think Jonathan Martin is as well. It’s a premier position,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said.
Complicating the matter for Martin is he’s consistently playing against some of the best pass rushers in football on the Dolphins defensive line. Still, playing against the best, theoretically, should improve Martin’s game at a much faster pace.
“It’s a great challenge for him,” Sherman said. “It’s definitely going to get him a lot better. But I’m pleased with is progress. Does he have a ways to go, yes, but I expected that going in that he’s going to have to continue to work to get better, and he’s going to be a fine left tackle in this league, if not a very good one.”
Left tackle has long been considered one of the key positions on offense, as evidenced in the number of tackles taken in last year’s NFL Draft and the Dolphins decision to draft Jake Long number one overall in 2008 over quarterback Matt Ryan.
Still, dating back to 2000, only two teams that won the Super Bowl had a first round draft pick at left tackle.
The Baltimore Ravens had former first round pick Bryant McKinnie at left tackle during the Super Bowl run last season and had first round pick Jonathan Ogden at left tackle in 2000. The Colts also had first-round pick Tarik Glenn at left tackle in the 2007 Super Bowl.
For Sherman, he doesn’t see the injuries along the line as a problem, but rather as an opportunity.
“I think it’s been a great situation for us because we are able to move some guys around and get an idea during the course of the season what we might be able to do, what we might not be able to do,” Sherman said. “The extra week has really benefited us.”