For all the progress Ryan Tannehill has made, he won’t be able to help the Dolphins if he’s eating turf.
“He can throw the ball exceptional on the move, he’s a phenomenal athlete for a quarterback and they’ve got a great system around him,” soon-to-be Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter said Friday at Dolphins camp.
“The thing about it now is the offensive line. That’s the only real question mark I would say as far as the Dolphins on offense are concerned.”
There might not be another unit with more pressure to succeed. With second-year running back Lamar Miller expected to start for the first time and a young quarterback, the play of left tackle Jonathan Martin and recently acquired right tackle Tyson Clabo will be crucial.
“I think there’s a legitimate concern,” said Clabo, a veteran starter who spent the last seven seasons with Atlanta. “A quarterback is usually only as good as the time he has to throw.
“We need to do a good job. We need to come together as a unit so we’re all on the same page. I believe we have the personnel to do that.”
Martin, a left tackle at Stanford, played right tackle as a rookie last year opposite former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long.
Martin struggled at times when he replaced an injured Long for four games. After the Dolphins let Long walk as a free agent, Miami chose not to trade for Kansas City veteran tackle Branden Albert. And when the Dolphins traded their No. 12 and No. 42 draft choices to Oakland for the No. 3 pick, Miami drafted defensive end Dion Jordan rather than left tackle Lane Johnson of Oklahoma.
That put even more pressure on Martin.
“I felt they had a great opportunity to grab the guy that’s going to be the next Jake Long for eight to 10 years,” NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes, a former NFL offensive lineman, said of Johnson. “Martin was a beast in college at left tackle, but the question is whether he can transition over in the NFL from a consistency standpoint.”
Martin (6-foot-5 and 312 pounds) said he tried to improve in the offseason through rigorous film study and weight training to add bulk.
“I’m trying to prove that they made the right choice in letting me play left tackle,” he said.
Clabo, 31, said he thinks Martin will succeed.
“Left tackle is an extremely difficult position to play in this league,” Clabo said. “He appears to be confident. He appears to be doing what is necessary as far as work on the field to become the guy that he needs to be.”
While Martin is a relative novice, Clabo is a 10-year veteran who earned a Pro Bowl bid in 2010. He hasn’t missed a start in the last five seasons.
“No question, Clabo is a great guy,” right guard John Jerry said. “He’s a leader already and he’s a guy we highly respect in our room.”
Dukes said Clabo (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) is the kind of player teammates would want on their side in a fight.
“He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy who plays every down and fights every down,” Dukes said. “He’s just not a very athletic guy.”
Clabo’s leadership will be crucial on a young line. Mike Pouncey is emerging as one of the AFC’s top centers but has played only two years in the NFL.
Jerry, who was graded as the league’s 49th offensive guard out of 81 last year by Pro Football Focus, is not considered a lock to keep his starting job. Offseason acquisition Lance Louis, a potential threat to Jerry, is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered while playing for Chicago.
Jerry missed practice Friday with an undisclosed injury and the team shook up the line, moving left guard Richie Incognito to right guard and starting third-round draft choice Dallas Thomas at left guard. Thomas, a guard in college, had been practicing at tackle.
Incognito, 30, said believes his move to right guard could be for more than just a practice.
“There’s a comfort level there — I’ve started a lot of games on the right side,” Incognito said. “Now it’s just about more repetitions and getting back in the groove.”
PROJECTED OFFENSIVE LINE
Pos. Starter / Backup
LT: Jonathan Martin / Will Yeatman
LG: Richie Incognito / Dallas Thomas
C: Mike Pouncey / Josh Samuda
RG: John Jerry / Lance Louis
RT: Tyson Clabo / Nate Garner