Miami Dolphins 2010 Position Grades: Did the New-Look Offensive Line Produce?
The Miami Dolphins offensive line looked quite different in 2010, with only tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey remaining as starters from the previous season.
The Dolphins used the uncapped year to get rid of the bloated contracts of productive but injury-prone guard Justin Smiley and Jake Grove, who had a combined $50-plus million on the books.
The team also gave up on 2008 sixth-rounder Donald Thomas, who missed all but one game of his rookie season with a foot injury after winning a starting job in camp. He started most of the 2009 season, but was benched due to performance at one point.
I completely understand the Dolphins moves. Smiley and Grove weren't reliable health-wise and weren't worth the money they were making. Of course, the Dolphins can be blamed for handing out those contracts in the first place.
I also fully expected the release of Thomas all preseason and know it to be the right move. Fans loved the guy because of the potential he showed as a rookie in 2008 camp, but he never played like a starter and was actually a free agent for most of the 2010 season before joining the Detroit Lions in late November.
That all being said, the Dolphins made these moves without the talent to replace them, and it cost the offense and the team greatly in 2010.
While Jake Long continued to play like a Hall of Fame tackle, the interior line made up of hot-headed left guard Richie Incognito, journeyman center Joe Berger, and rookie John Jersey was horrendous.
That kind of play killed the Dolphins' two-headed rushing attack, which in turn put far too much pressure on the passing game. Essentially, the line held back the offense in 2010.
So how did each of the Dolphins linemen grade out in 2010? Let's take a look.
Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and is currently a programming coordinator for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.
OT Jake Long: A
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Jake Long continued to be the rock on the Dolphins offensive line, playing as the best left tackle in all of football for much of the season.
He really only had one bad game, and that was against the Bears just four days after suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder against the Titans.
Long gave up just give sacks in 2010 while routinely dominating opposing pass rushers and performing well in the running game.
With a full offseason to get healthy, Long should return as good as ever in 2011.
OT Vernon Carey: B-
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Before a knee injury knocked him out for the final four games of the season, Carey started the first 12 and had opened 87 straight with the Dolphins, dating back to his 2004 rookie season.
While Carey didn't display the ideal agility for a tackle, he did pretty well in pass protection with only four sacks allowed on the right side and was also pretty strong in run blocking. Rookie John Jerry's struggles next to him at right guard didn't help Carey's job.
Carey continues to get bulkier and bulkier, which makes me think it's probably not long before he's a better fit at guard. He's not a left tackle though he is a serviceable right tackle, but if the Dolphins can find an upgrade there, Carey might be of more use as a mauling guard.
G/C Richie Incognito: D+
On the one hand, Incognito kept his cool for most of the season and didn't get into any altercations with the head coach or draw any personal foul penalties.
On the other hand, maybe he actually could have used a bit more fire, because his blocking was flat-out terrible. While he was a bit better playing center late in the year, Incognito spent most of the season being ineffective in the running game and getting beat by rushers up the middle.
Incognito is a free agent this offseason with his one-year deal expiring, and while he might be worth re-signing cheap if the Dolphins can fix their center problems, I certainly wouldn't hand him a job again.
OT Lydon Murtha: D+
Poached off the Lions practice squad as a seventh-round rookie from Nebraska in 2010, Murtha won a backup tackle job with the Dolphins in 2010 simply by being not as bad as Andrew Gardner.
Murtha appeared in eight games this past season, including three as a starter at right tackle in place of an injured Vernon Carey. He didn't fare too badly in pass protection with only one sack allowed, but he struggled as a run blocker and also contributed to the Dolphins' blowout loss to the Patriots by allowing a blocked field goal.
While Murtha probably has a leg up on a backup tackle job in 2011, he didn't display starting ability and won't be a lock to make the roster.
G/T Pat McQuistan: D
Acquired for essentially nothing right before the season (the Dolphins and Cowboys swapped sixth-rounders for him, but only if Miami had a worse record, which they did not), McQuistan ended up playing a huge role for the Dolphins.
McQuistan appeared in all 16 games this season, including eight starts. He worked at both guard spots, even earning the job over a benched John Jerry at one point, as well as the tackle positions.
While he wasn't all that effective, he was solid as a puller and there was at least no noticeable drop-off when he replaced his fellow Dolphins linemen in games.
C/G Cory Procter: D
A five-year veteran with the Dallas Cowboys, Procter spent much of the 2010 season serving as a top backup at center and guard for the Dolphins.
He appeared in 10 games, including one start, but was lost for the season with a torn ACL on a freak non-contact play against the Chicago Bears. He was unspectacular in all facets before the injury.
Procter doesn't offer any upside at this point in his career and will likely be rehabbing his knee into the spring, so I don't expect the unrestricted free agent to return to Miami any time soon, if ever.
OG John Jerry: D-
John Jerry was a player I singled out in last year's Senior Bowl as a prospect I liked for the Dolphins and someone I thought fit well in their blocking scheme. I eventually predicted the Dolphins would draft him, and they did.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins and myself, Jerry was a disaster stepping in at right guard as a rookie. He was overmatched in pass protection and was extremely ineffective in the running game, eventually leading to a benching in favor of career backup Pat McQuistan in the middle of the season.
I like Jerry's potential and still think he has the ability to be a starter in the NFL, but he clearly has a long way to go and will have to battle just to make the team in 2011, let alone win a starting job.
C Joe Berger: F
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What else can you say about Joe Berger that hasn't already been said? As bad as Richie Incognito, John Jerry and some of the Dolphins' backup linemen were in 2010, Berger was worse. In a word, he was terrible.
Berger constantly struggled against even the slowest of pass rushers, getting dominated by the opposing nose tackles that supposedly gave Samson Satele so much trouble and saw him shipped to Oakland. Berger also struggled constantly in the running game, never controlling the line of scrimmage or getting any push up front.
The Dolphins took a risk cutting high-priced by effective Jake Grove in favor of Berger, but they felt comfortable given how well Berger played in relief of Grove in 2009. That turned out to be a huge mistake, and it's not one I think the Dolphins will make again.
Berger clearly showed that he is not starting material in the NFL in 2010, which is why center should be among the Dolphins' top priorities this offseason.
G/T Allen Barbre: n/a
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A seventh-round pick by Green Bay in 2007, Barbre also had a stint with the Seahawks in 2010. He has played in 28 games including seven starts for the Packers.
The Dolphins signed Barbre with a week remaining in the 2010 season, and he spent the finale inactive given his lack of knowledge in the team's offense.
Barbre constantly struggled in his time with the Packers and was wholly ineffective as a starter. The one-time tackle will probably focus more at guard for the Dolphins in training camp, but he's a long shot to make the roster regardless.
OG Ray Feinga: n/a
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Ray Feinga had a pretty eventful season for a guy that spent time on the practice squad and only played in three games as a backup.
After a car wreck on the first day of camp, Feinga was waived. The Dolphins re-signed him during the preseason, where he suffered a thumb injury. He was cut again and re-signed to the practice squad. The Dolphins promoted him on Sept. 30, only to release him before their next game. He served a four-game suspension as a free agent for an undisclosed violation of league policy, and was then re-signed by the Dolphins in November.
Feinga was promoted to the Dolphins active roster in December and appeared in the final three games of the season.
Feinga didn't do anything of note on the field in 2010, and he'll be fighting for a roster spot again in 2011. He does have some raw potential though, and he's someone to keep an eye on as the Dolphins just can't seem to quit him.
OT Matt Kopa: n/a
Signed by the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in June, Kopa was signed off the Niners practice squad by the Dolphins in early September. He was inactive for every game with the Dolphins.
Kopa missed his entire senior season at Stanford with a broken foot, but he is a solid pro prospect. He might be better suited for guard in the NFL despite playing mostly tackle in college, but he'll have to battle to earn a roster spot in 2011 regardless of where he plays.
Closing Comments and 2011 Outlook
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The Dolphins are pretty much set at two offensive line positions, with Jake Long holding down the fort at left tackle and Vernon Carey still more than serviceable at right tackle. It's possible Carey would end up at guard in the next year or two, but he'd probably be reliable there as well.
Aside from that, the Dolphins need a lot of help inside. They absolutely need a new center to replace Joe Berger, who struggled mightily as a starter in 2010.
The Dolphins also have their left guard, Richie Incognito, slated for free agency. Both Incognito and rookie right guard John Jerry underperformed in 2010, and neither earned a starting job in 2011.
In the draft, the Dolphins could look to centers Stefen Wisniewski (Penn State) in the first or second round or guys like Kristofer O'Dowd (USC), Jake Kirkpatrick (TCU) and Brandon Fusco (Slippery Rock) in the middle-to-late rounds.
In free agency, the center class is headlined by Chris Chester (Ravens), Rudy Niswanger (Chiefs), Jonathan Goodwin (Saints), Ryan Kalil (Panthers) and Olin Kreutz (Bears). Kreutz has spurned the Dolphins in free agency before, while Kalil is a good player but not a great fit for the Dolphins' power-blocking scheme. Other decent options include David Baas (49ers) and Chris Spencer (Seahawks).
At guard, the Dolphins might look to Mike Pouncey (Florida) or Danny Watkins (Baylor) in the first or second round, assuming they trade down and back into the second. Later in the draft, someone like Miami's Orlando Franklin, Michigan's Stephen Schilling or Wisconsin's John Moffitt would be a nice addition.
Where the Dolphins could really make a slash at the guard position is in free agency, where elite Patriots guard Logan Mankins could be this year's Karlos Dansby as a high-priced free agent that fills a big need. Mankins would instantly upgrade the Dolphins' entire offensive line and would give the team the best left side in football.
Trai Essex (Steelers), Kasey Studdard (Texans), Kyle Kosier (Cowboys), Max Jean-Gilles (Eagles), Justin Blalock (Falcons), Davin Joseph (Buccaneers) and Deuce Lutui (Cardinals) would also be good players to look at, with Blalock and Joseph especially being intriguing additions.
No matter what the Dolphins do or where they go to fill their center and guard needs, they need to do something. Going into the season with three new starting offensive linemen is not ideal, but going into next season with the same three from last year would be a serious mistake.