Thursday, March 4, 2010

Miami Dolphins 2010 Offseason Preview: Offensive Line

The offseason will officially kick off with the signing and trading period March 5, and as I always do prior to the mayhem, I'll be looking at each position on the Dolphins' roster in depth.

I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.

This article focuses on the offensive line positions.


Under Contract
  • C Joe Berger (through 2011) — Berger was excellent starting at center in place of an injured Jake Grove, and has proved to be a versatile asset as a reserve interior lineman. His spot on the team is safe in 2010.
  • T Vernon Carey (through 2014) — Carey has developed into a solid offensive tackle, and though I think he's better suited for guard overall, he's more than adequate on the outside. He's highly paid and will be back starting in 2010.
  • G Ray Feinga (through 2011) — Feinga spent part of the 2009 season on the Dolphins' practice squad after going undrafted out of BYU. He'll had a battle on his hands competing for a backup guard job.
  • T Andrew Gardner (through 2012) — Gardner didn't see much playing time a Jake Long's backup at left tackle, but he should continue to develop and remain with the team in 2010.
  • G Nate Garner (through 2010) — Garner provided a minor boost when he took over for Donald Thomas at right guard, but I'm not convinced he's the long-term answer. He has shown he can play all across the line, however, making him a valuable backup to have.
  • C Jake Grove (through 2013) — Acquired to be a dominant run blocker and handle opposing 3-4 nose tackles, Grove was excellent in the 12 games he played. His durability is a bit concerning with just one 16-game season in six years, but he's easily one of the better starting centers in the NFL.
  • G Andrew Hartline (through 2010) — Acquired from the Green Bay Packers midseason, Hartline didn't appear in a game with the Dolphins. The former college tackle's future in the NFL is at guard or center, and he'll have to really show something to make the roster in 2010.
  • T Jake Long (through 2012) — Long continued his excellent play into his second season, rebounding from a rough season opener against the Falcons to finish with a stellar 2009 performance and second consecutive Pro Bowl selection. The former first overall pick has already lived up to his draft slot, and should continue to be one of the best left tackles in football.
  • T Lydon Murtha (through 2010) — Detroit's seventh-round pick in 2009, Murtha was signed off the Lions' practice squad in October, but landed on the Dolphins' injured reserve list in December with an ankle injury. He'll battle for a backup tackle job, and could also project inside.
  • T SirVincent Rogers (through 2011) — Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Houston in 2009, Rogers left the team at the beginning of training camp to return to school and finish his degree. He's been activated from the reserve/retired list and will be a long shot to make the team in 2009, if he survives until camp.
  • G Justin Smiley (through 2012) — Smiley has been a solid run-blocker in two seasons with the Dolphins, but he's had trouble staying healthy. He'll continue to start in 2010 if he can stay on the field.
  • G Donald Thomas (through 2011) — Hopes were high for the Dolphins' 2008 sixth-round pick after he earned the team's starting right guard job as a rookie, but a foot injury prematurely ended that season. Inconsistency led to his benching in 2009, and he'll have to greatly improve to earn the job back in 2010.
  • G Dimitri Tsoumpas (through 2012) — An All-Star with the CFL's Calgary Stampeders in 2009, the 24-year-old Tsoumpas is an intriguing prospect. I like his chances of making the team, and wouldn't put it past him to give Garner and Thomas a battle for the starting right guard job.

Free Agents
  • The Miami Dolphins do not have any offensive linemen with expiring contracts in the 2010 offseason.

Strengths
  • Essentially, most of the Dolphins' offensive line is its strength. Every starter except for the right guard spot is either good or great, and all of them are under contract for at least a few more years. The Dolphins have one of the best young tackles in Jake Long, and some quality run-blocking interior linemen in Grove and Smiley.

Areas of Needs
  • There remains a hole at right guard for the second straight season, and there's no telling at this point if the long-term answer is on the roster. The Dolphins do have a few good prospects but no proven players at the position, although the rest of the offensive line's play makes almost anyone the team plugs in at right guard serviceable.

Free Agency Outlook
  • The Dolphins seem unlikely to pick up any offensive linemen in free agency, and a few of the positions probably have no chance of being touched. The team has no need at tackle and there aren't really any quality players on the market anyway.
  • The Dolphins would probably love to add a restricted free agent guard like Jahri Evans (Saints) or Logan Mankins (Patriots), but they will not be willing to pay the price in draft picks it would cost to sign either.
  • Veteran Bobbie Williams (Bengals) is the best unrestricted free agent guard on the market, but he's not a long-term solution and wouldn't be worth the money for a Dolphins team that has quality starters at the other four offensive line spots.

Draft Outlook
  • The Dolphins have bigger needs at wide receiver, nose tackle, linebacker and safety, but it seems possible they will at least consider a guard sometime in the draft's first round rounds. If they somehow landed in the late first round via a trade up or down, they'd have to at least consider Idaho's Mike Iupati, who could solve the team's right guard problems for the next decade.
  • If I had to put my money on the Dolphins draft one offensive lineman, it would be Ole Miss guard John Jerry. The brother of Falcons' defensive tackle Peria Jerry, John has the strength and size (6-5, 330) the Dolphins' front office loves in their offensive linemen. He's a strong candidate to go in the third or fourth round.
  • With three sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks, the Dolphins could definitely look for a reserve offensive lineman or project late in this year's draft. Candidates include tackles Will Barker (Virginia), Ciron Black (LSU), and Drew Davis (Alabama); guards Brandon Carter (Texas Tech), Marshall Newhouse (TCU), and Mike Tepper (California); and centers Erik Cook (New Mexico) and Eric Olsen (Notre Dame).

Conclusion

Quite simply, there is little to worry about when it comes to the Dolphins' offensive line. It is a highly productive run-blocking unit with one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the NFL, and all of those players should be around for quite some time.

The whole at right guard who be a nice one to finally fill, but the production at the other four spots makes it hardly noticeable. The Dolphins need to figure out whether the long-term starter is already on the roster in the form of Garner, Thomas, or Tsoumpas, or if they need to draft someone.


How do you feel about the Dolphins' offensive line heading into the 2010 offseason? Share your thoughts on the forum here!