Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The offensive line has been the scorn of Miami Dolphins fans for the last few years as general manager Jeff Ireland has tried to fix the problem. While the 2013 offensive line is still to be determined, Ireland has improved his drafting and free agent pickups on the line during his time in Miami.
Starting in 2008, Ireland’s job was to overhaul a roster pretty much devoid of talent across the entire team. Ireland’s first big offensive lineman splash was signing guard Justin Smiley to a 5-year, $25 million contract with $9 million of that money guaranteed.
The Dolphins followed that move up by going safe in the NFL Draft and selecting mammoth left tackle Jake Long with the number one overall pick. Long became a fixture on the offensive line for the next five years. His initial contract was for 5-years, $57.75 million with $30 million guaranteed.
In 2009, Ireland continued the overhaul on the offensive line by signing Jake Grove to a 5-year, $29 million contract with $14.5 million guaranteed. The Dolphins also re-signed right tackle Vernon Carey to a 6-year, $42 million contract with $15 million guaranteed.
Ireland also traded Samson Satele to the Oakland Raiders for a future draft pick as the team hoped Grove would solidify the center position. Grove would not make it in Miami and was released within one year of signing his massive free agent contract.
Things began to change in 2010 when the Dolphins signed guard Richie Incognito to a one-year deal. Incognito was coming off a disastrous few years and Miami took a chance on him and he has continually paid dividends since the initial signing.
The Fins also drafted guard John Jerry out of Ole Miss to play the right guard position along the offensive line. Jerry struggled with weight early in his career, but started for the Fins in 2012 and held down the position well. Jerry is once again expected to be the starting right guard in 2013 for Miami.
In 2011, the Dolphins liked what they saw from Incognito so much that they re-signed him to a 3-year, $13 million contract with $3.25 million guaranteed. Incognito has held down the left guard position and along with Jerry are the most tenured starting linemen for the team.
In the 2011 NFL Draft, Ireland picked arguably his best offensive lineman thus far in center Mike Pouncey. The twin brother of Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, but some though Mike would be better suited at guard, but that was far from reality.
The Dolphins stuck Pouncey at center and haven’t looked back since.
Since then, Pouncey has turned into arguably the best center in the National Football League and in an emergency could also help at guard if the team needed it.
But, not every offensive line acquisition in 2011 went well for Ireland. He signed former Dallas Cowboys right tackle Marc Colombo, who was at the end of his career, and the former Cowboys starter turned into a turnstile on the right side of the line.
Ireland turned back to the NFL Draft in 2012 by selecting tackle Jonathan Martin out of Stanford in the second round. Martin protected Andrew Luck’s blind side for four years, but was moved to right tackle by the Dolphins to pair with Jake Long.
Martin struggled throughout his rookie season, but was moved to left tackle late in the season to fill in for the injured Long. Once he was moved, he settled in better at left tackle and that’s the position he is holding down heading into the 2013 regular season.
During 2013’s free agency period, the Dolphins flirted with several big name left tackles including Bryant McKinnie and Branden Albert, but couldn’t come to terms with either. The Dolphins then signed former Atlanta Falcons right tackle Tyson Clabo to go next to Jerry on the right side.
Clabo was a salary cap victim for the Falcons and is coming off multiple seasons of great play as a right tackle in Atlanta. The Dolphins also added guard Dallas Thomas in the draft, but he has struggled mightily in camp as the team tries him out at tackle.
The biggest move the Dolphins made in 2013 was the move they didn’t make by letting left tackle Jake Long leave in free agency for the St. Louis Rams. Long was a five-year starter, but Miami didn’t want to pay his asking price due to his recent injury history.
Still, after five seasons under Ireland, an offensive line that was awful in the season before he arrived has slowly started to turn into a strength for the team.
There have been costly mistakes along the way, namely Smiley, Carey, and Grove, who together signed contracts worth $96 million with nearly $40 million of that amount guaranteed. But, since Bill Parcells left and Ireland has been in control, some good moves have helped the line.
At the top of the list is drafting Mike Pouncey and signing Richie Incognito, along with signing Tyson Clabo. Drafting John Jerry has worked out for the Fins as well as he mans the right guard position in 2013.
Still, much of the line in 2013 depends on Martin taking a huge step at left tackle to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blindside and open holes for the Dolphins running attack. So far in the preseason, Martin has looked unspectacular, but solid.
While there will still be much consternation over the offensive line, especially if Jerry can’t get healthy and Martin struggles, it’s an improved position that has the potential to be a strength for a few years here in Miami, which is something far from the imagination in 2007.