Thursday, July 24, 2008

Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles, No. 2: Starting LG

First overall pick Jake Long has the potential to be a franchise left tackle. Former first-rounder Vernon Carey is now at his more natural right tackle. 2007 second-rounder Samson Satele is coming off a tremendous rookie campaign. Free-agent pickup Justin Smiley upgrades the right guard spot over the departed Rex Hadnot. Miami's young offensive line is certainly coming together quite nicely. Only problem is there's still one piece missing.

With the departure of Chris Liwienski (the definition of addition by subtraction) the Dolphins have an opening at the starting left guard spot. As with the tackle depth, there isn't much of a veteran presence here. In fact, there was essentially no experience there until the Dolphins added Steve McKinney in May. Tackle Trey Darilek, who played in in 18 games for the Eagles from 2004-2005 but none since, can also play guard.

Beyond that, you have two drafted rookies in fourth-rounder Shawn Murphy and sixth-rounder Donald Thomas plus 2007 holdover Ike Ndukwe. Dale Murphy's kid is a strong, solid run blocker who should develop into a solid starter, while Thomas is experienced and raw but has some upside. Ndukwe also possesses the bulk (6-4, 330) at guard that Parcells loves. That being said, none are likely ready to start from Day 1.

If he's healthy, McKinney is my pick (and my hope) to start at left guard initially. He's got tons of experience at the position, having started the majority of his 143 games with the Colts and Texans there. An added bonus is that in the event of an injury to Satele, McKinney could slide over to center and you could plug in Murphy at guard. Unfortunately, McKinney is recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out of most of last season. He was reportedly "75 to 80 percent" healed in May, which is cause for optimism as camp opens tomorrow.

Unlike at some positions, the Dolphins have both the veteran experience for the present and the youth for the future at guard. With Miami's offensive line already 80 percent, they aren't far off from having one of the best young lines in football.

The position(s): Starting left guard

Number of spots: One

The contenders:
Steve McKinney, Shawn Murphy, Donald Thomas, Trey Darilek, Ike Ndukwe

Predicted winner(s):
McKinney

Reason:
With a rookie left tackle and an overall young offensive line, Miami could use a veteran presence and McKinney is the only current in-house player that fits the bill. While only a temporary fix, McKinney is a proven player that should turn in a solid performance if healthy. Meanwhile, Shawn Murphy can be groomed to start by 2009 or even late this season, while Thomas can continue to be developed as well.