DAVIE — The rebuild of the Miami Dolphins' offensive line was massive, literally and figuratively. But more importantly, it was necessary because of the unit’s struggles last season.
In 2019, the Dolphins offensive line wasn’t just the worst in the NFL. It was the worst in franchise history, setting records for futility.
So General Manager Chris Grier and his staff went to work building what can be argued as the biggest offensive line in team history, since the smallest player on the starting unit that will take the field in Sunday’s home game against the undefeated Seattle Seahawks is 6-foot-4, 315 pounds.
Ereck Flower and Ted Karras were added as free agents, then the Dolphins used a first-round pick to select former USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson, a second-round pick on Robert Hunt and a third-round selection Solomon Kindley.
Jesse Davis was the lone holdover as a starter from last year’s starting offensive line. So far the reviews have been surprisingly good, despite the group’s lack of cohesion and chemistry, which they know comes with time and experience working together.
The most encouraging part of this season’s start is the fact that the rookies on the offensive line haven’t just held their own, they’ve excelled so far.
“I think Solomon is a mauler. It’s fun to play next to a guy like that — a guy that can come in and really move bodies and clean out the pocket on certain things,” said Karras, who signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins worth $3 million in the offseason. “Then Austin Jackson, 21 years old, playing left tackle in the league, that’s very, very impressive.”
The offensive line was flagged for two penalties in the first three games — a holding call against Flowers in the opener and one against Kindley in Week 2 (but that penalty was declined).
The Dolphins have allowed five sacks in three games, which ties Miami for eighth best in the league.
“I think Ted gets a lot of the credit there," starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "He’s the leader for those guys up front and has done a really nice job. I think just the talent that we brought in in the offseason, those guys have come in and meshed really well. It’s early, too.”
The Dolphins' offensive line has paved the way for 108 rushing yards per game, which ranks Miami 20th. However, plenty of Miami’s rushing production has been assisted by Fitzpatrick’s ability to scramble when pressured and gain yards.
The Dolphins realize they need to improve the team’s 3.8 yards-per-carry average. Only four teams — Washington, Houston, Cincinnati, and the New York Giants — have a lower average.
However, this next group of games — Sunday’s contests against Seattle, then road games against the 49ers and Broncos before hosting the Chargers on Oct. 25 — will be the most difficult stretch of the season for an offensive line.
The Seahawks' defense is holding opponents to 66 rushing yards per game, which ranks them as the second stingiest defense against the run.
The 49ers have a dynamic defensive line, the Broncos have Bradley Chubb, and the Chargers have Joey Bosa, who won rookie of the year honors.
That means we’ll soon learn exactly how good Miami’s offensive line can be.
“Any offensive line I’ve ever played for, we’ve always been fast and physical. Fast, physical, smart, the leaders on the team,” Kindley said. “I want us to carry the team. However far we go, I want it to be because of the offensive line because we’re good and how much we collaborate and how much we love each other.”
Davis mentioned the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles of recent years when he talked about the kind of line he hopes the Dolphins can become.
The last two times the Dolphins produced a winning season and qualified for the playoffs (2008 and 2016) it was the offensive line that carried both teams.
“We want to be able to do the job consistently on a daily basis,” Davis said. “That’s the goal we strive for here.”
The fact that Miami’s rebuilt line has only spent the past eight weeks together practicing and played three games as a unit because of the shortened offseason amid the COVID-19 pandemic, means there’s a potential for more upside.
The theory is they might be further ahead if they had been together for a whole offseason program and played a few exhibition games. So maybe this unit is merely scratching the surface of what they can achieve if everyone starts healthy.
“I want our identity to be technical. Technical and I would say really more hard-nosed,” Flowers said. “The good offensive lines are technical, from hand placements to everything – the combo blocks, the games — just technical. That’s what really wins a matchup.”