Posted: 10:03 am Friday, March 4th, 2011

Miami Dolphins Position Breakdown – Offensive Line 

By Post Staff

With the Dolphins re-signing Richie Incognito last night to a new three-year contract, and some positive news finally emerging from the labor talks between the NFL and players union, today seems like a good day to talk some more football and the Dolphins’ 2011 season.

Today we bring you Part 2 of our 9-part series breaking down the Dolphins’ roster: Offensive Line. What went right in 2010, what went wrong, who is currently under contract, and what will the unit look like in 2011? Thanks to the website ProFootballFocus and the NFLPA salary database for helping us out.

Don’t forget to read Part 1: Quarterbacks

And away we go…..

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Under Contract
Allen Barbre: Signed through 2011. Next year’s base salary: $640,000
Joe Berger: Signed through 2011. Next year’s base salary: $800,000
Vernon Carey: Signed through 2014. Next year’s base salary: $4,150,000
Rey Feinga: Signed through 2011. Next year’s base salary: $405,000
Nate Garner: Signed through 2011 (after he signs his restricted free agent tender). Next year’s base salary: Currently unknown
Richie Incognito: Signed through 2013. Next year’s base salary: Currently unknown
John Jerry: Signed through 2013. Next year’s base salary: $405,000
Matt Kopa: Signed through 2011: Next year’s base salary: $405,000
Jake Long: Signed through 2013: Next year’s base salary: $11,200,000
James Marten: Signed through 2012. Next year’s base salary: $555,000
Lydon Murtha: Exclusive rights free agent. Next year’s base salary: Currently unknown

Free Agents
Pat McQuistan (likely to be unrestricted)
Cory Procter (unrestricted)

What Went Right?
According to the website ProFootballFocus, the Dolphins were the third-best pass-blocking team in the NFL last year, behind the Seahawks and Jets. … Left tackle Jake Long earned his third straight Pro Bowl selection and was ranked behind Andrew Whitworth as the second-best tackle in the NFL, despite playing all 16 games with a minor knee injury and seven games with a shoulder injury that required post-season surgery. … Right tackle Vernon Carey was ranked the 25th-best tackle out of 78. His four sacks ranked 26th-best and and 23 pressures ranked 36th, though he only played in 12 games… Free agent guard Richie Incognito started all 16 games – two at center – and was ranked the 18th-best guard among 82. He also did not commit a personal foul penalty all season.

What Went Wrong?
The Dolphins changed personnel at all three interior line positions (Donald Thomas to John Jerry, Jake Grove to Joe Berger, Justin Smiley to Incognito), and the result was some pretty atrocious run-blocking. The 1,643 rushing yards, 3.7 yards per attempt and eight rushing touchdowns were all the lowest numbers produced in Tony Sparano’s three years as head coach. … Long allowed a career-high six sacks because of the knee and shoulder injuries. … Jerry, a third-round pick, disappointed the coaching staff with a lack of physicality and inability to learn the offense quickly. He was ranked the 55th-best overall guard out of 82, and 65th-best in run blocking. … Backup Pat McQuistan, obtained right before the regular season from Dallas, was not a very capable fill-in, finishing the season ranked 62nd among 82 guards in eight starts. … Dolphins quarterbacks were sacked 38 times, tied for 11th-most in the NFL.

2011 Draft Priority
High (particularly at guard)

How Will The Dolphins Address the Position in the Offseason?
Here is our projected depth chart, for now:

LT Jake Long, Lydon Murtha, Matt Kopa, James Marten
LG Nate Garner, Joe Berger, Rey Feinga, Allen Barbre
C Richie Incognito, Joe Berger
RG John Jerry, Joe Berger, Rey Feinga, Allen Barbre,
RT Vernon Carey, Lydon Murtha, Matt Kopa, James Marten

We expect Incognito to shift to center and Berger, a versatile interior lineman, to return to a backup role. This gives the Dolphins three solid pillars on the line – Long at left tackle, Incognito at center and Carey at right tackle. But issues remain at guard. Garner was an invaluable member of the line in 2009, playing four of the five positions, and will likely be counted on to shore up one of the spots. But can he return to form after missing all of 2010 with a broken foot? We like Berger to win one of the backup spots, given his ability to play all three interior line positions and his six years of NFL experience, almost all with Sparano.

While Jerry will be given a chance to win a starting job, we expect the seventh offensive line position to go to a rookie – perhaps one drafted as high as the first round. Jerry was a disappointment in 2010, and we don’t see the Dolphins waiting around for him to improve. We would not at all be surprised to see the Dolphins trade down in the first round and draft one of the top interior linemen coming out of college – someone like Mike Pouncey, Ben Ijalana or Tyron Smith. In that scenario, the highly-drafted rookie almost certainly would start from Day 1, and Garner and Jerry would compete for the other guard spot.

Youngsters Murtha, Kopa, Marten, Feinga and Barbre will then battle it out for the eighth roster spot and practice squad, though Murtha, who started the final four games in 2010, has a leg up on the competition for a permanent roster spot. And we don’t expect McQuistan or Procter, both emergency fill-ins in 2010, to be resigned.