The bad news just keeps getting worse for the Miami Dolphins, who learned they could be without Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey for the first half of the 2014 NFL season, according to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald.
For a Dolphins team now just one season removed from allowing a league-worst 58 sacks of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and was set to field four new starters along the offensive line prior to Pouncey’s hip surgery, this is devastating news.
By the time Pouncey is ready to return (Week 9 vs. Chargers), the Dolphins may already be in bad shape with matchups against the Patriots, Chiefs, Packers and Bears early on the schedule. Miami is seeking to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2008. They had hoped Pouncey, their lone remaining starter on the offensive line from last season, would be a key player in their campaign.
It appears that will not be the case, at least for the first half of the season. How the Dolphins manage to overcome that challenge could be a defining moment for the team and head coach Joe Philbin, who may not be in the league’s most comfortable head-coaching job.
The first step will be finding a viable replacement, whether that player is on the roster or the free-agent market. Second-year center Sam Brenner has been filling the void in Pouncey’s absence at practice and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Will he be able to handle the starting role for at least seven regular-season games? Only time will tell.
He will have big shoes to fill, however.
Mike Pouncey was the league’s eighth-ranked center in terms of pass blocking, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He allowed just two sacks and 14 total pressures overall. Of the Dolphins’ five currently projected starting offensive linemen by the folks over at Ourlads, only newly acquired Branden Albert ranks within the top 60 at his position in pass blocking efficiency on PFF.
Take that however you will, just know that Tannehill and the Dolphins had a difficult time getting the passing game going last season with better, more experienced talent up front. Yes, the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal threw a wrench into things for Miami, but their situation as it stands right now does not look promising. And it would be far worse if Albert was not in the mix.
For the Dolphins’ sake, hopefully it’s just a matter of a bunch of unproven players who will show they can be starting-caliber linemen in the NFL. Shelley Smith is a quality guard, but he excels in the running game. Rookies Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner could also play a factor into the group’s performance with the former expected to start at right tackle.
Albert could be the team’s saving grace, as he will be tasked with protecting Tannehill’s blindside and anchoring the offensive line as the unit’s veteran leader. Make no mistake about it, however, Tannehill, Philbin and Dolphins fans will be counting down the days until the former first-round pick Pouncey is ready and able to return to the lineup.