Easily lost amid the abundance of youth on this Dolphins’ team are a small group of seasoned veterans whose presence means so much and whose guidance, knowledge and abilities are essential in the development of these young players in particular and the success of this year’s team in general.
Veterans such as center Daniel Kilgore, who is in his ninth season and playing for his sixth different head coach. Other than quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is entering his 15th season, Kilgore is the most experienced player on the offensive roster. Long-snapper John Denney (15th season) and safety Reshad Jones (10th season) are the only other players on the roster with more experience than Kilgore.
I reminded Kilgore of this after a recent practice and he didn’t flinch. “I’m old,” he says with a grin. “Just look at my gray hair.”
In fairness to Kilgore he is prematurely gray, but he likes to feed off of that to underline how long he’s been around. However, it isn’t merely his years in the league that make Kilgore so valuable to this team. It’s how he serves as a stabilizing force for this very young offensive line.
He clearly embraces this role.
“It’s rejuvenating to be around these guys,” he says. “They ask a lot of questions and hopefully I have the right answers. I really enjoy being so well respected on this team. It wasn’t always that way when I played in San Francisco.”
After playing seven seasons for the 49ers, starting 39 games during that time, Kilgore was traded to the Dolphins in the 2018 offseason, replacing long-time starter Mike Pouncey who signed with San Diego.
Kilgore was a starter from the first day of training camp last year, but his season ended prematurely when was injured in the fourth game of the season against the Patriots. Now he is back, healthy again and determined to pick up where he left off before getting injured.
“I want a complete season,” he says. “I want to be able to showcase my talents for 16 games.”
Kilgore is so important to this offensive line. He calls the signals. He directs traffic. He provides a calming influence. There has been a lot of experimenting this summer on the offensive line with a pair of rookie guards – third-round pick Michael Dieter and undrafted Shaq Calhoun – playing with the first team in the most recent practice sessions. That only makes Kilgore’s role, playing between those young guards, that much more important.
“It’s great having a veteran leader at center,” said Fitzpatrick, who knows a thing or two about veteran leaders. “He’s so level headed. He is calm all the time. I’m fortunate to have him because the relationship between quarterback and center can mean so much to a team.”
As for Kilgore, he sees no reason why this can’t be his best season in the league, yes even at the ripe old age of 31. It’s not only that he’s healthy it’s the knowledge he has gained in his eight previous seasons. It’s how he understands the big picture, how he has a thorough grasp of his responsibilities and how he can beat you with quickness or strength.
“I feel like everything is coming together for me,” he says. “I’m sure approaching this season like it’s going to be my best.”
Yet, he is never too comfortable, never too sure of his status. This is a lesson he has learned by watching so many teammates come and go both in San Francisco and with the Dolphins.
He has a saying that he likes to use whenever it’s appropriate: “Players rent space in the locker room,” he says. “There are no guarantees. None of us should ever lose sight of that.”
Nonetheless, Kilgore seems to be locked in as the starting center, both because of the resume he has compiled and the positive impact he is having on these younger players. In fact, at this precise moment, only left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Kilgore appear set at specific positions on the starting line.
So to nobody’s surprise, when the first depth chart of the summer came out Monday, Kilgore was listed as the starting center. Even though you can probably write that down in ink, Kilgore never quite looks at it that way.
“I take nothing for granted,” he says. “I’m approaching every practice like I have something to prove.”
It has been an interesting journey for Kilgore. He played for four different head coaches with the 49ers, after arriving as a fifth-round pick out of Appalachian State in 2011, and now has had two different head coaches with the Dolphins. His calling card has been consistency, giving up only 7 ½ sacks and committing just nine penalties in his seven seasons with the 49ers.
Now it’s about doing the same with the Dolphins. “I’m just grateful they have allowed me to be a part of this,” he said.
Grateful and ready to prove that the old man on the offensive line, specs of gray at all, has plenty of game left.