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  Position Analysis: Offensive Line
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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On a periodic basis between now and the 2006 NFL Draft, I will take an in-depth look at the Dolphins. This week: Offensive Line


Current State: It has been said that the most important signing the Dolphins made last offseason was that of new offensive line boss Hudson Houck. A “miracle worker” some call him.



Considering the remarkable progress that the line made in 2005, it is easy to understand the high regard that people have for Houck. Without his skillful eye, it is doubtful that the Dolphins would have won as many games as they did.


No doubt about it.


As I’ve said in the past, perhaps no other unit has more to do with winning and losing than the offensive line. Cohesiveness, talent, toughness, attitude, and real intelligence are the key ingredients for a well-functioning unit. Furthermore, the individual pieces must be solid talents in their own right.


Houck really did a good job improving the technique of the talent he had. In some cases, he recognized the opportunity to put players in a better position for success.


Perhaps no other player was in greater need of Houck’s tutelage than 2004 first round draft pick Vernon Carey. Carey has the size and physical ability needed to play Tackle at high level. What Carey doesn’t have is the solid technique and, some say, the desire to be amongst the best. Last season, Houck started Carey out at left tackle, then right tackle, and then, it is believed, right guard. The results were mixed. Today, Carey very much remains a work-in-process with the jury still undecided on whether or not he will pan out. 2006 will be an important season for Carey’s career.


As for a now healthy Damion McIntosh, his performance at left tackle in 2005 was decidedly better than his 2004 effort. Houck was quite familiar with McIntosh as both men worked together previously in San Diego. No question this helped McIntosh make the improvements he did. McIntosh brings excellent size and decent athleticism to the left tackle position. Cut due to salary cap considerations, McIntosh recently re-signed with the Dolphins to a one year deal. He will compete for a starting job, most likely on the right side as new addition L.J. Shelton figures to start at LT.


Shelton is a solid upgrade over McIntosh and should do a good job protecting new franchise QB Daunte Culpepper. Still, one wonders why the Browns would let Shelton leave. Perhaps Houck’s coaching will do the trick here.


Guard Jeno James has all the tools needed to dominate, including a nasty attitude. Steady yet unspectacular, he is especially effective as a run blocker. And while his pass blocking has improved, James still wasn’t handling pass rushers as consistently as he should have. This is an area that Houck has helped James with. If James can make some strides with his pass pro, he might be able to garner some legitimate Pro Bowl consideration.


Starting center Seth McKinney is another player who benefited from Houck’s coaching. Whereas McKinney used to get physically mauled by bull-rushing defensive lineman, his technique has now improved to the point where he holds his own more often than not. McKinney is the type of player that will struggle when he gets sloppy with his technique as he is simply not physically gifted enough to get by on talent alone. He still needs to improve his overall strength. In the end, Nick Saban saw enough in McKinney’s game to re-sign him to a two year contract.


Rex Hadnot’s strength will probably always be in the run game, though he made some important strides in his pass pro technique this past year. Hadnot mostly relies on heart, a nasty attitude, and a strong desire to get better. The starter at right guard, Hadnot struggled last season with unforced penalties (false starts mostly). As self-punishment he gave up his car and instead rode his bicycle to work! Hadnot knows that improved mental discipline, continued hard work, and attentiveness to Houck’s counsel are the keys to him developing into a special player.


Once the starting LT, Wade Smith is now plugged in as a center in what may be his last chance to pan out as a Dolphin. Smith’s future as a Dolphin was already in some real doubt before suffering a broken arm in early September. His shift to Center is an intriguing move by Houck. Can Smith play Center? We’ll soon see.


Tackle Anthony Alabi spent the entire 2005 season on the inactive list. Saban and Houck seem committed to developing this diamond in the rough. Alabi must improve his overall strength in order to be able to compete in a real game.


Other reserve players include guards Joe Berger and C.J. Brooks as well as tackle Tony Pape (who quit football over a year ago but had a change of heart…Saban agreed to give him another chance).


Strengths: Coaching; Guard and Left Tackle. James and Hadnot are the interiors anchors. Shelton solidifies an area that has been a real problem since the retirement of Mark Dixon. Houck’s presence continues to benefit the entire team; he is one of the best in the business.


Weaknesses: Center and Right Tackle, though neither position is a pressing need.


Offseason Priority: Low. The Dolphin brain trust read the draft extremely well, correctly concluding that the best option for getting meaningful help was via free agency. Shelton was a smart pick-up; no one in the draft would have been better.




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