Assuming the Miami Dolphins‘ plan to stick their latest offensive line acquisition at left guard, seeing as though Shelley Smith projects as less of a liability in pass protection next to Branden Albert, the right guard spot remains one of the club’s most pressing needs.
Considering quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked on 12 different occasions thanks to blown assignments by his right tackle last season, the need for a dependable pass protector opposite Albert should be the higher priority at the moment. But that’s not to overlook how vital the right guard position will be to Miami’s success in 2014.
Said spot was manned by John Jerry in 2013. Jerry’s strength has always been pass protection, but he surrendered a career-high five sacks and continued to be vastly ineffective at opening up holes for Miami’s running backs last season.
Jerry remains a free agent, and the Dolphins would rather entrust the starting right guard spot to a rookie than bring him back. A plethora of potential answers will be available at the position in the 2014 draft. Capable starters can be had from the first day to the third day.
Having said that, don’t rule out the Dolphins already having a fix on their roster. Three in-house candidates come to mind: Nate Garner, Sam Brenner and Dallas Thomas.
Garner is capable of filling in at essentially any position along the line. The Dolphins value that versatility, though, and would prefer to keep him as a backup so he can step in when need be.
Besides, Garner struggled in six starts in 2013. According to Pro Football Focus, Garner produced a -9.8 accumulative run blocking grade primarily at left guard and center. If the Dolphins can identify a few trustworthy reserves along the line, there’s nothing stopping them from cutting Garner and his $1.79 million cap hit, which ranks 22nd on the team.
Brenner, meanwhile, was an undrafted rookie out of Utah in 2013 and was given the opportunity to start four contests at left guard in the aftermath of Bullygate — although he played some right guard in college. He was pushed around by power interior types but displayed the ability to effectively pull and seal the edge. If Brenner can bulk up and continue to develop this offseason, he should be able to emerge as a solid backup at least. He left too much to be desired as a rookie to be handed a starting gig in 2014, though.
The final in-house option, Dallas Thomas, saw the field for a grand total of two snaps as a rookie. Dolphins fans are quick to forget that Thomas was a third-round pick last April seeing as though he essentially didn’t see the field and struggled so mightily during the preseason.
Thomas was manhandled in Miami’s five exhibition games, conceding three sacks, three quarterback hits and five hurries in only 97 pass blocking snaps. That ineptitude transpired at left and right tackle, though. Thomas is thought to be a much better fit at guard by many.
“Here’s a guy who’s played left and right tackle,” NFL Network’s draft guru Mike Mayock said of Thomas last spring. “I like him inside. Some NFL teams like him outside. I think he has average feet for a tackle but a solid prototype for a guard.”
Mayock’s sentiments seem to coincide with Thomas’ porous play last August — at least in regards to his less-than-ideal makeup at tackle. As for his ability to play guard, more specifically right guard, that is an uncertainty.
Don’t be so quick to chalk Thomas up as a bust just because he didn’t see the field in 2013 on a team that was desperate for offensive line help, though. With a permanent move inside to guard, his ceiling would escalate considerably.
Neither Brenner or Thomas should be thought of as starters entering the 2014 season. Both could be given the opportunity to compete at right guard with improvement, however.
The Dolphins will likely select a guard at some point during May’s draft, but the prospect they nab won’t be a proven commodity. The door will be open, albeit slightly, for Brenner or Thomas to steal the show with impressive workouts over the spring and summer.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.