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Talking All Things Offensive Line

How did the Miami Dolphins get here? Just how bad is it? And how does it get fixed?

Stop us if you've heard this one before, but the Miami Dolphins have a problem with their offensive line.

In case there wasn't enough evidence before last Sunday, there can be no doubt left after the Dolphins allowed six sacks and, worse, allowed starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to get knocked out with a rib injury in the humbling 35-0 loss against the Buffalo Bills in the home opener at Hard Rock Stadium.

To be sure, the lack of pass protection didn't fall 100 percent at the feet of the offensive linemen because the running backs had their own breakdowns, but it doesn't change the fact that things are bad up front right now.

So how did we get here? Just how bad is the situation? And what can be done to rectify or at least lessen the problem?

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

This one requires a whole lot of analysis because it's not just a one-year problem. In fact, the last time the Dolphins had what could be described as an above-average offensive line — maybe even just average — was in 2016 when they lined up (from left to right) Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil, Mike Pouncey, Jermon Bushrod and Ja'Wuan James.

Those were five veterans with pedigree, with four first-round picks plus a former two-time Pro Bowl selection.

The Dolphins line that started the first two games of the 2021 season featured one first-round pick (Austin Jackson), a second-round pick (Robert Hunt), a third-round pick (Michael Deiter), a fourth-round pick (Solomon Kindley) and a veteran who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent (Jesse Davis), with two second-round picks (Liam Eichenberg, Greg Little) among the backups.

Offensive line coach Lemuel Jeanpierre is in his first year in that role after being the assistant to Steve Marshall in 2020 and is now the fourth O-line coach since the start of training camp in 2019, following Pat Flaherty, Dave DeGuglielmo and Marshall.

Here's a crazy stat: The Dolphins have not had an offensive line coach for back-to-back complete seasons since 2014-15 when John Benton was in charge of the unit.

So maybe part of the problem is continuity from a coaching standpoint.

And we also have to wonder whether the Dolphins have enough talent in their offensive line room.

It certainly wasn't a healthy sign that they traded for Little and center/guard Greg Mancz in the final weeks of training camp when reports out of Carolina and Baltimore suggested neither player was going to make their previous team's 53-man roster.

This also makes you wonder why the Dolphins felt the need to dump 2020 starting guard Ereck Flowers, trading him back to Washington and paying a good chunk of his salary in the process, to save a mere $2 million of cap space.

And if it is simply a matter of being talent-deficient on the offensive line, then it would quite the indictment on the Dolphins' ability to draft in recent years.

Taking that point further, it also would raise the question — yes, already at this point — about not selecting either Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater at the top of the 2021 NFL draft instead of going with Jaylen Waddle.

Yes, Waddle has had impressive moments in the first two games and he filled a major need for a speedy wide receiver, but folks in Detroit and San Diego can't stop raving about the top two tackles in the 2021 draft and it says here it's a lot more difficult to find an elite tackle than an elite wide receiver.

The Dolphins starting line for those first two games featured three second-year players, a third-year player and a fifth-year veteran.

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So is the issue simply inexperience and the line is going through growing pains? If so, how long are those growing pains going to last, and shouldn't there be improvement in Year 2 and not the apparent regression?

JUST HOW BAD IS THE O-LINE RIGHT NOW?

It's bad.

OK, that's too simplistic an answer, but look even beyond the debacle that was the Buffalo game and there were signs of trouble going back a while even though the performance against New England in the opener wasn't bad.

But the offensive line was the clear No. 1 concern for this team heading into the regular season based on what we saw throughout training camp and the preseason.

It all came to a head in that Week 2 game against Buffalo when the offensive line's performance was reminiscent of a 2016 October game against Tennessee when Tunsil and Albert were out with injuries and the line gave up six sacks in a 30-17 loss.

Two days later, the Dolphins waived the two replacement starters for that game, Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas, as well as releasing guard Jamil Douglas from the practice squad.

WHAT'S THE SOLUTION?

Now, we're not expecting anything that drastic to happen this week as the Dolphins prepare to face the Las Vegas Raiders, but it's certainly fair to expect changes in the starting lineup, especially after head coach Brian Flores confirmed that possibility Monday.

And, truth be told, the performance against Buffalo was problematic enough that no potential change should be considered surprising.

The fact that Solomon Kindley was pulled for the final seven offensive snaps against the Bills might suggest he could be the most vulnerable of the starters, and we'd add that rookie free agent Robert Jones looked good in those seven snaps at left guard after replacing Kindley.

That said, they were garbage-time snaps and that's a caveat that needs to be mentioned.

It's no great revelation that Austin Jackson has been struggling, and that's been going on since the start of training camp. Flores, who rarely (if ever) criticizes players individually, said Jackson has "got to play better." Flores did add that he wasn't the only one, but even just his acknowledgment at the start of the answer was revealing.

So, yes, absolutely count Jackson as somebody whose starting position could be vulnerable, though it's fair to suggest the Dolphins might be resistant to make that move given that we're a year removed from the team picking him 18th overall in the draft.

If the Dolphins do make a move in the starting lineup, it certainly would make sense to insert Eichenberg.

Because of the versatility of the offensive linemen on the roster, there are all sorts of possibilities, including this one I suggested on my regular appearance on the Big O Show, which was to move Davis to left guard (a position where he has started) in place of Kindley and insert Eichenberg at right tackle.

Again, at this point, all options should be on the table.

That's where things stand with this offensive line.