Wednesday, March 14, 2007

G Matt Lehr to visit; Other OL News

Updating a report from yesterday, free agent G Matt Lehr is planning to visit with the Miami Dolphins early next week. He has been offered a contract by the New York Giants already, but he realizes that the Dolphins have plenty of new openings along their offensive line, and if signed he would be able to fill one of the guard positions. His visit with Miami has been delayed up to this point because OL coach Hudson Houck has been away from the team facilities visiting different draft-eligible linemen at their respective college Pro Days. Lehr is still young at 27 years of age and has played under Houck as a rookie in Dallas in 2001. He spent the last two seasons with the Falcons, helping them achieve the top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL.

The team has also discussed bringing in G Zach Wiegert. He will be 35 years old in August and would only be a stopgap.


The most important position on the offensive line - the left tackle - remains a question mark for Miami. A few sources say that the team has discussed moving RT Vernon Carey to the left side where he played as a rookie in 2004. The other options available on the roster include RG L.J. Shelton who was originally brought in to play LT, and 2005 fifth-round pick Anthony Alabi, who has not started a game. The team believes Alabi is better suited to play RT, and unless Shelton shows up to camp in better shape, moving him to LT would be considered a "last resort."
"None of those options are any good," said a source who is aware of the Dolphins' considerations. "They've really painted themselves into a corner."
The top LTs available in free agency - Damion McIntosh, Leonard Davis, and Luke Petitgout - have already been signed by other teams. The team has not shown any interest in T Mike Gandy.

As for picking up a LT in the draft who could come in and start right away, sources say "the Dolphins do not want to give up the number of picks that would be required to move up from the ninth spot to even think about drafting [Joe] Thomas." Thomas is almost universally believed to be the best tackle prospect in the draft. Apparently, the Dolphins are not interested in Penn State LT Levi Brown, who would probably be available at the number 9 spot. Joe Staley, a LT from Central Michigan, has impressed the team and is viewed as a late first-round/early second-round draft pick. He was converted from TE, however, and has played only two seasons at LT so he would probably not be able to start right away.

As far as my thoughts on this situation go, I think it would be a mistake to change those aspects of the line that have been successful. Vernon Carey is reluctant to move back to LT and rightfully so; he has played tremendously at RT, and he should probably stay there. Also, while Shelton struggled last year at LT, he did show some good ability at RG. Ronnie Brown had much greater success running to the right side last year, and it should be a priority to keep the right side of the line intact. Rex Hadnot played adequately at center. So, the real questions are on the left side of the line. Nick Saban thought highly of Alabi as a LT, so it is surprising to hear that the team now prefers him at RT. If that is true then the team will have to look for its LT in the draft.

I am quite surprised that the team is not interested in Levi Brown. He is the second-highest rated tackle in the draft and will likely be an option at #9. Of course, the draft is still over a month away, and these whisperings could simply be rumors or the team trying to leak false information. I don't believe that if Miami is picking at #9 and Brown is available that they won't strongly consider him. Picking somebody up in the draft like Staley would be a good decision too, although the question would probably remain who would fill in at LT until Staley matured enough to take over.

There's little question that this problem will remain one until after the team has made its draft picks, and perhaps even after. Even if the team signs G Matt Lehr to play LG, and keeps Hadnot, Shelton, and Carey in their positions from last year, the LT could prove to be the line's undoing. It's unquestionably the most important position on the team behind QB, and if it isn't solidified then whoever is playing QB could face a lot of pressure when he drops back to pass. My prediction is that Miami will give Alabi a strong look at LT in training camp before writing him off as well as pursuing one of the top-rated LT prospects in the draft.

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