Saturday, August 15, 2009

Training Camp Roster Breakdown 2009: Offensive line

Concluding my look at the offensive side of the ball, today's roster breakdown will focus on the offensive linemen.

Jake Long
Long was pretty much everything we could have hoped for out of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. As expected, he was a force in the running game, but he also proved to be more adept in pass protection than many were expecting (only 2.5 sacks allowed). He showed tremendous toughness late in the season, playing through an ankle injury that was obviously hurting him. But you wouldn't have known it by judging his play since he never let it affect his performance. His impact was especially felt in certain off-balanced Wildcat formations in which he lined up on the right side of the line outside of Vernon Carey. He's just an absolute gamer, and he will be a rock on this line for a long time.

Vernon Carey
Opposite Long, Carey did an admirable job in his transition back to the right tackle position. He picked up right where he left off as a bulldozer in the running game. Miami averaged 4.22 Adjusted Line Yards when running behind right tackle last season (16th in NFL) and 4.65 ALY (3rd) when running to the right end. Obviously, the 4.22 ALY behind RT is less than his usual numbers (4.98 in 2007; 4.72 in 2006) but it's still productive. Now that he won't have to worry about another position switch this offseason or a contract extension, I'd expect the team's running performance in his direction to once again be in the top ten in the league.

Justin Smiley
Smiley may have been Miami's best offensive lineman before going down for the season with a nasty injury. He was especially great at pulling, and his blocks were the key aspects of several huge plays. He's locked in as the starter at left guard, but it's impossible to ignore his injury history. He just cannot stay healthy for a full season, and we can't be sure that the ankle ligaments he tore in November won't act up again once the season rolls around. As long as he's playing, he'll be very good, but it's not guaranteed that he'll make it through a whole season for a change.

Jake Grove
I bashed the team's signing of Jake Grove when it happened, and I'm still not convinced that it was the best move for this team. You mean to tell me the team spent close to $30 million on a 29 year old player who can't stay healthy and who has had perhaps one good season in the league (and that while playing in a scheme which he will not be using in Miami)? I've seen some numbers, and I love numbers, that would seem to say Grove played pretty well last season. Of course, I've seen other numbers, which say he played like crap too. But let's assume he did play well last year. He obviously didn't play well in his years before that, so what was the difference? Well, it's simple. Oakland employed a zone blocking scheme for the first time in Grove's tenure there last year. Miami will not be using such a scheme. Just to compare Grove's ALY numbers to Satele's (who most people assume is worse as a run blocker):

Jake Grove





Samson Satele


Looking at that chart just makes me very sad. I really hope I'm dead wrong on this, but I'm not holding my breath at this point.

Donald Thomas
Thomas was a bit of a revelation last year, surprisingly taking a hold of the starting right guard spot in training camp and not letting go. Of course, he then went down halfway through the first game of the season, ending his rookie campaign, and then went down again this offseason, derailing his return to the starting lineup. He's back now, but probably not at 100%, and it's anyone's guess as to when he'll be at that level again. But reviews from coaches, teammates, and even opposing players have already been amazing. They talk of the amount of force he hits his man with and how "heavy" his blocks feel. The starting job is his for the taking once he's fully healthy, and the sky is the limit for such a young player who is still so technically raw.

Nate Garner
The Dolphins claimed Garner off waivers right before the beginning of last season. He was inactive for every game, but he obviously showed off enough talent in practice to stick around and earn the opportunity to be a key reserve. His ideal role would be to backup Carey at right tackle.

Brandon Frye
Frye was signed off the Texans' practice squad in November. He played in seven games for the Dolphins last year, all in a reserve role. During camp, he's been cross-trained at both guard and tackle, but with Donald Thomas returning to health and the drafting of Andrew Gardner, there may not be enough room for Frye.

Andrew Gardner
I really liked the selection of Gardner in the sixth round this year. He's a huge kid with loads of starting experience in college (four-year starter, 48 consecutive games). Unfortunately, he tore a labrum during his senior year, and that can obviously be a devastating injury for linemen. But so far so good. As long as he can adequately step in at either tackle position here and there when needed, Gardner will be a valuable selection.

Shawn Murphy
Murphy looked to be on the road to being a bust last year after Miami traded up in the fourth round to take him. He then went on to reward that hefty investment by being declared inactive for every single game last season. He was struggling so mightily that the coaches wouldn't even cross-train him at multiple positions. But he entered this offseason with a renewed motivation and reshaped his body to get stronger. He's been working as the starting right guard ever since Thomas went down with another injury. His grasp on that role in tenuous at best, but it's an encouraging sign to at least see him given such responsibilities after the disappearing act he pulled in his rookie season.

Andy Alleman
I'm a big fan of Alleman's, going so far as to name him Miami's fourth best prospect this offseason. So I was understandably concerned when he had to miss some practice time in camp due to a back injury. He's back practicing now, so hopefully everything is all cleared up. After being awarded to Miami on waivers, Alleman started seeing significant playing time almost immediately. He rotated with Ike Ndukwe at RG, and then started four games at left guard after Smiley went down for the year. He can also play center in a pinch. It's important to have guys like Alleman on the team - backup offensive linemen who can reliably be called on to step into the starting lineup at multiple positions should injury or poor play strike.

Ikechuke Ndukwe
Ndukwe started every game last year at right guard after Thomas was lost for the season. But his play was so uninspiring that he often wouldn't finish the game there. The coaches were desperate to find an upgrade, and they were constantly rotating players into his position. With Murphy now leapfrogging him on the depth chart at the guard position, Ndukwe has been moved to tackle. The reports are not promising there either.

Joe Berger
This is actually not Berger's first stint with the Dolphins. He spent a lot of time inactive during his first two years in the league with Miami, but he did see time in three games. He's back again, this time as the team's primary backup center, although he can flex out to the guard spot as well.

Mark Lewis
Lewis was an undrafted free agent out of Oregon. He got extended practice reps after Thomas went down and actually started to show the coaches some promise. He's a prime candidate for the practice squad.


Here's my predicted depth chart:
LT - Jake Long
LG - Justin Smiley
C - Jake Grove
RG - Donald Thomas
RT - Vernon Carey

1. Andy Alleman
2. Shawn Murphy
3. Joe Berger
4. Andrew Gardner

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