DAVIE (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins returned to the practice field on Tuesday following the team’s first day off since the opening of training camp.
Head coach Joe Philbin has kept a watchful eye on the Dolphins offense under new coordinator Bill Lazor and while it’s still very early in camp, the margin for error is shrinking by the day.
The area of the offense that’s under the microscope the most has been the offensive line. After a season in which the Dolphins line gave up a franchise-record 58 sacks, it’s understandable why so much attention is being paid to that part of the team.
The only returning starter from last season’s offensive line is Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey. Unfortunately for Miami, Pouncey is expected to miss anywhere from four to eight games after undergoing hip surgery last month.
In the meantime, the search for a temporary replacement has been ongoing since the Dolphins’ training camp began late last week.
Shelley Smith took the starting center reps during the first few practices and he had his ups and downs. Tuesday saw the Dolphins move Nate Garner into the spot, and he’s expected to get a few days’ worth of practices under his belt as well.
While Philbin is hoping that someone will take the job and run with it, he isn’t sugar-coating the fact that despite only holding a handful of practices, not knowing who the starting center will be is a troubling reality.
“It’s definitely a concern,” Philbin said following Tuesday’s practice. “But I’m also confident that we will clean it up and we’ll get it addressed. But it is definitely a concern.”
Aside from protecting the quarterback, another aspect of the offense that struggled mightily behind the line was the running game.
The Dolphins rushing attack ranked 26th in the league in 2013, averaging a meager 90.0 yards per game. Lamar Miller had a rough season in his first year as a starting running back, collecting just 709 yards and two touchdowns.
It appeared that Miller had lost his starting job when the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno earlier this year.
The former Broncos’ starter is coming off of a career season in which he rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns, but a knee injury has kept Moreno off the practice field thus far during training camp. He’s expected to return sometime in the next week.
Miller hasn’t let his sub-par sophomore season or the addition of Moreno sway his focus from continuing to improve and become a better NFL running back.
It wasn’t long after last season was over that Miller was back at it, working to improve both on the field and off it. He added several pounds of muscle but the extra weight hasn’t affected his speed. So far, coaches have had a lot of good things to say about what they’ve seen from Miller.
“It’s hard for me to talk about what has happened in the past,” explained Lazor. “But I can tell you that Lamar, I think, has a chance to be a really good player in this league because I think he has a good mix of, number one, being a space player, having the ability to use his speed.
“I had a chance to see that all spring and now it’s probably two days into seeing him with pads. Now I’ve watched the video but what I saw a couple of days ago, our first day in pads, I really like the way he ran the ball. In our short-yardage situations, I thought he got downhill. If he’ll put those things together I think he’s got [a] chance to be a real productive player.”
“I think he’s more consistent,” added Philbin. “He’s stronger, he’s more physical. That should hopefully help [him] break a couple of tackles as well.”
Miller has done a good job of keeping his coaches happy but that’s something that goes both ways as the third year back has been very pleased with what Lazor has brought to the Dolphins offense.
The up-tempo pace combined with moving players around and creating mismatches has had players raving about what this new scheme can do for Miami’s hopes of making the playoffs.
“I think [Coach] Lazor is doing a great job with the offense,” Miller said on Tuesday. “Just opening the offense for me and the running backs to get into the open field to make big plays for this offense.”
At a time when the offense and the offensive line in particular are facing much scrutiny, Miller is very pleased with everything he’s seen so far.
“I’m very excited,” Miller said with a smile. “We’ve got a new offensive coach and the offensive line has been doing a great job. I think we’ll do pretty good this year.”