How Can Miami Dolphins Finish Rebuild of Offensive Line?

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How Can Miami Dolphins Finish Rebuild of Offensive Line?
Bill Wippert/Associated Press
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (middle) was sacked 58 times in 2013. The Dolphins would prefer it if he doesn't have to endure the same beating again.

It can't get much worse than last year.

The Miami Dolphins offensive line allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be sacked 58 times. It was the most sacks on any quarterback in the 2013 season, and it is the biggest beating a Dolphins quarterback has ever taken in the team's 48-year history. 

Reliving them one play at a time is nearly a 10-minute process, and with four of the five players from the 2013 offensive line heading to free agency, it's easy to see why the Dolphins have sought out a complete rebuild of their front five. They wasted almost no time, signing left tackle Branden Albert just hours after the free-agency frenzy began. Soon after, they signed right guard Shelley Smith from the St. Louis Rams

Two down, two to go.

If the season started today, the Dolphins' starting right tackle would be either Dallas Thomas, Michael Ola or Jason Weaver. Their other starting guard would be either David Arkin or Nate Garner. Unless the Dolphins are comfortable with that, they'll need to make a couple more additions to the offensive line before the offseason is over.

Here's a look at what could lie ahead for the Dolphins.

 

Right Tackle

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agents: Tyson Clabo, Bryant McKinnie, Eric Winston

Top Choice: Eric Winston

The Dolphins have not shown much interest in bringing back their own free-agent offensive tackles, and with good reason.

Miami Dolphins' remaining free-agent offensive tackles
Player Snaps in pass protection QB Hu QB Ht QB Sk Pressures Pressure %
Tyson Clabo 634 31 10 11 52 8.2
Bryant McKinnie 65 38 13 8 59 9

Source: ProFootballFocus.com

Although Clabo finished out the season on a positive note, much of his tape from 2013 was not good. McKinnie also struggled, but he was in the unfortunate situation of being traded midseason, joining a brand-new group and a brand-new system.

Eric Winston would be the ultimate "changing of the guard" (or tackle) signing for the Dolphins. He is intimately familiar with playing in a zone-blocking scheme from his six years with the Houston Texans under Gary Kubiak. The Dolphins have been searching for the right personnel to run that scheme, and although Winston won't be a long-term answer at 30 years old, he could be a stopgap.

Winston was also recently voted as the new president of the NFL players' union. He would be a good choice if the Dolphins are looking to add players of high character to their locker room and specifically the offensive line.

By some measures, however, Winston's play has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. He graded out as the eighth-worst offensive tackle to play at least 25 percent of his team's snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Dolphins could take a chance on him for his experience, but they would be wise to have a backup plan.

Draft Prospects: Morgan Moses (Virginia), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama), Antonio Richardson (Tennessee)

Top Choice: Antonio Richardson

At 6'6" and 327 pounds, Antonio Richardson is anything but "tiny," as his nickname would suggest. He played left tackle at Tennessee but may be in line for a position change. His massive frame makes him an ideal road-grader on the right side of the offensive line, and he lacks the overall foot quickness to handle elite pass-rushers.

CBS Sports' Rob Rang thinks Richardson may be the most well-equipped tackle in this year's class, but there are some holes in his game:

Richardson may possess the deepest and most impressive toolbox of all the tackles in the 2014 class in terms of natural ability and size/athleticism combination. Where he needs to improve is in his technical approach to the position, particularly when mirroring quicker pass rushers, as he too frequently over-relies on his hands and will forget to stay active with his feet.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller compares Richardson to Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who graded out as one of the 10 best run-blocking tackles in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, despite playing in only nine games.

It would make the most sense for Richardson to move to right tackle, where he could focus on being the best run-blocker he can be and steadily improve his technique in pass protection. 

 

Guard

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Free Agents: Travelle Wharton, Davin Joseph, Richie Incognito

Top Choice: Travelle Wharton

Richie Incognito may be open to the idea of a return to Miami, as he told WSVN TV of Miami/Fort Lauderdale, but the Dolphins have already done so much to move on from the scandal that embroiled their locker room in 2013; re-signing Incognito would be a massive step back. Quite frankly, Incognito is not good enough to warrant the backlash.

It's curious why Travelle Wharton hasn't been signed already. The 32-year-old veteran of 10 years may be nearing the end of his career, but he showed he still has some good football left in him. Last year, Pro Football Focus graded him as the fifth-best guard in the entire league. 

The free-agency options are dwindling, and none look like long-term solutions. If the Dolphins are going to go the stopgap route, Wharton is their best bet.

Draft Prospects: Zack Martin (Notre Dame), Xavier Su'a Filo (UCLA), David Yankey (Stanford)

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Top Choice: Zack Martin (Notre Dame)

Martin started 50 games at left tackle for the Fighting Irish, but at 6'4" and 305 pounds with 32-7/8"-long arms, he's not considered long enough to play the left tackle position in the NFL. He also isn't considered powerful enough to move to right tackle. Therefore, he may be best suited to move to guard.

CBS Sports' Rang picked him with the Dolphins' 19th overall pick in a recent mock draft, citing his ability to move inside as a positive in his fit for the team:

With Branden Albert signed to take over at left tackle, the Dolphins can instead shift their draft-day focus towards boosting the play inside at guard. Zack Martin, unrelated to Jonathan Martin by genetics or style of play, is a coach's dream. While perhaps lacking the body type scouts prefer at tackle (where he started 50 of his 52 career games for the Irish), Martin slides well laterally and controls opponents with fierce hand usage.

The Dolphins installed a zone-blocking scheme on their offensive line when Joe Philbin took over as head coach, but they haven't had a guard that truly fits that scheme at any point in his two-year tenure. Incognito is more of a plodding man-blocking guard in the mold of former head coach Tony Sparano's "bigger, stronger" philosophy of building the offensive line. 

Martin may be a bit more of a "finesse" guard than the tandem of Incognito and John Jerry, but perhaps the Dolphins could benefit from moving in that direction.

Rang compares Martin to Patriots guard Logan Mankins, who also transitioned to guard after playing tackle in college:

Mankins has been one of the NFL's most valuable offensive linemen since being selected by New England in the first round of the 2005 draft, and has anchored the Patriots' front line with top-notch instincts, toughness and versatility despite lacking elite athleticism. Martin exhibits many of the same traits, and should draw first-round consideration.

If Martin gets out in front of a play as quickly and aggressively as Mankins, the Dolphins will have a solid starting guard for a long time. His positional versatility could come in handy in a pinch, and who knows—after all, Mankins started at left tackle against the Baltimore Ravens for the very first time in 2013.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases. Combine stats courtesy of NFL.com's results trackerAdvanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

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