It's been a while since a Dolphins' offensive line seemed this set so early in the offseason. No, we're not going to form any conclusions or make any bold predictions. But this much is already clear: All the pieces appear to be in place to make this one of the strengths of this team.
There's a lot to like about this. Foremost, identifying a likely starting five so early gives the line a chance to grow together, to learn each other's tendencies and to form a chemistry that can prove valuable once the games count for real.
While nothing has been made official, and things could change in training camp, all signs point to tackle Laremy Tunsil and guard Josh Sitton on the left side, tackle Ja'Wuan James and guard Jesse Davis on the right side and Daniel Kilgore at center.
Sitton and Kilgore are the veteran additions and, based on what I have observed through the first days of OTAs, they were the right fits for this group – Sitton an imposing physical presence who will block you into the seats if need be; Kilgore a smart durable player – don't be deceived by the gray in his hair -- and an excellent run blocker. Both have the DNA – experience and toughness -- the Dolphins were looking for.
None of this in any way should take away from what center Mike Pouncey meant to this franchise for so long both on and off the field. But Pouncey's surgically repaired hip prevented him from practicing much at all and, as much as the Dolphins relished having him healthy on game day, the downside was a line that could never really grow together in practice.
Now, they are growing together. Now, they will grow together.
"We're trying to develop a little bit of cohesiveness," said coach Adam Gase.
They've also developed some pretty good depth.
"We've got a group of eight or nine guys that can come in and play," said Sitton.
You've got guard Ted Larsen, who could challenge Davis on the right side for starter's minutes, center Jake Brendel and tackles Eric Smith and Sam Young all with experience. You've got a second-year guard in Issac Asiata who is hopefully ready to challenge. The Dolphins added even more depth last week, signing center Mike Matthews, who comes from a pretty good football family.
Add it all up, dissect each of the individual parts, and you have the makings of a group that can mean so much to the overall success of this team and certainly to the health of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. There's a reason the Dolphins didn't draft an offensive lineman this year for the first time in franchise history. Plain and simple, they didn't need to.
"I think we're going to be really good," said Davis.
Let's take a closer look at those five likely starters and the type of impact they could have:
• Left tackle Laremy Tunsil: He struggled some early last season and much of that was due to the transition from left guard to tackle, pitting Tunsil against some of the league's top defensive ends. But as the season wore on, Tunsil did a better job grasping the demands of his position and now Sitton figures to give him the veteran guidance that can prove invaluable. Bottom Line: I fully expect Tunsil to emerge this season as an elite left tackle, worthy of his first round status.
• Left guard Josh Sitton: Did I mention he looks like a cement block with long hair and a beard? "He has the type of swagger you want in an offensive lineman," said coach Adam Gase. Swagger? An offensive lineman? Love the possibilities. Bottom Line: The Dolphins have gone with lighter, perhaps more finesse oriented guards in recent seasons. But there is very little finesse in Sitton's game. His tenacity and toughness will be a welcome addition to this line.
• Center Daniel Kilgore: Ask him what he brings to this offensive line and the response comes without hesitation. "Knowledge of defenses, athletic ability, being able to work first level to second level, and communication," he says. In so many ways, Kilgore seems like perhaps a more durable version of Pouncey, maybe a little better as a run blocker. But the internal make-up is very similar. Bottom Line: I'll miss Pouncey, but I don't expect any drop-off at center.
• Right tackle Ja'Wuan James: He'll turn 26 this Sunday and it is time for this former No. 1 pick to reach another level in his career. We've seen some good things over the past four seasons, but we haven't seen the consistency and James will be the first to tell you that. The Dolphins have shown plenty of faith in James; now it's up to him to justify that faith. Bottom Line: This is an important season for James. He clearly has the tools; it's now about mastering the mental part of his game.
• Right guard Jesse Davis: One of the feel good stories of the 2017 season, Davis vaulted from the bottom of the depth chart to a starting role by season's end. Now he's been told he'll be the starting right guard. "I finally have a foot in the door," he says. Davis in many ways is a less experienced version of Sitton: big, strong and with an aggressive mindset. Bottom Line: The Dolphins have a real find in Davis, as he showed last season, and he could be a long-term solution on the right side. It's important that he and James learn to work well together.