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The top question on my mind for the Dolphins in 2013 is whether the offensive line can have consistent pass protection for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Left tackle Jonathan Martin stands front and center as the biggest factor answering this question. A year ago, he was not just a subpar player, he was one of the very worst offensive tackles in football. His performance at right tackle was statistically similar to that of the 2011 team’s Marc Colombo, who is known as one of the more infamously bad free agent signings in recent memory.
Yet, when Martin moved to left tackle, his pass protection got even worse. He was thoroughly embarrassed by the likes of Chandler Jones and Aldon Smith, and never did better than mediocre against Jason Babin, Trevor Scott, Kyle Moore, Rob Ninkovich and Justin Francis.
Many people believe Martin has undergone a significant transformation this offseason. His performance in the preseason supports the possibility. He thoroughly outperformed the pass-rushers the Jacksonville Jaguars threw against him and held his own (with the exception of one lazy play) against the Houston Texans. His performances against the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a little more uneven.
I personally try and stick to the details of his game when it comes to predicting how he will perform against top pass-rushers. In reviewing his work, I am consistently concerned about the lack of fluidity in the way he incorporates his punch and his hand use.
His punches often do not connect, come out soft or are mistimed, and in other instances he stops his feet during and after his punch. He shows a tendency to stop during plays and has trouble sustaining beyond 2.5 seconds.
However, Jonathan Martin is not the only problem on the offensive line. The Dolphins appear set to give right guard John Jerry his starting job back. Jerry was poor in both phases against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his first preseason game back from injury. He also struggled during the final preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.
Meanwhile, Richie Incognito reminded us with a sack given up against the Buccaneers that he has never truly been more than a decent pass protector.
Tyson Clabo’s age continually shows up in pass protection when Tannehill attempts to extend the play in the backfield, requiring his linemen to reset their feet and sustain their blocks.
During the final two preseason games, Ryan Tannehill took the passing game largely out of the hands of his pass protectors. I had him releasing the football in 2.5 seconds or less on 37 of 48 plays. That ratio would be obscene if it held during the regular season, which means that in all likelihood it will not.
Tannehill will be forced to ask more of his offensive linemen when defenses begin game-planning against him.
The Dolphins will face no shortage of accomplished inside and outside pass-rushers this season. They will face names like Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Desmond Bryant, Jonathan Babineaux, Osi Umenyiora, Cameron Jordan, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.
Every single one of the above is an accomplished pass-rusher with a resume from either the inside or outside.