The Miami Dolphins have exactly a week to pick up the pieces for an already struggling offensive line, which will play Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football without two of the team’s starters.
Jonathan Martin, an offensive tackle who has started all 23 of the games he's played for the Dolphins, left the team last week because he’s uncomfortable with his working environment, and there is no timetable set for his return.
On Sunday the team suspended Richie Incognito, the team’s starting left guard for the past four seasons, indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team after the organization gathered enough information to conclude he had been harassing Martin.
Their absence will challenge the depth of an offensive line, which was already perceived as the weakest unit on the team considering Miami leads the NFL with 35 sacks.
Tyson Clabo, who has allowed eight sacks and 20 quarterback hurries this season, will likely start his eighth game of the season at right tackle. Nate Garner, a five-year veteran, is expected to start his 14th NFL game as Incognito’s replacement.
Garner actually replaced Incognito in last week’s 22-20 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals because of a neck injury Incognito suffered in the second quarter. During his 49 snaps against Cincinnati Garner allowed one of the team’s five sacks.
“I’ve got to step up. I’ve got to play better,” said Garner, who signed a three-year, $4.875 million deal last offseason to remain with the only NFL franchise he’s ever played for. “I’ll be there ready to go.
“I’ve played [left guard] before. I’ve started four games in 2009 there, four games at left and four games at right. It has been a while since I played guard, but that’s what I’m here for. I can play everything.”
Last season Garner played 313 snaps at right tackle for the Dolphins, starting the season’s final four games because of Jake Long’s season-ending injury. That season he was rated by ProFootballFocus.com as the league’s 51st best tackle based on his play, which featured him allowing two sacks and 11 hurries.
The biggest challenge Garner faces will be translating the Dolphins’ offense to new starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who is beginning his third week with the team following last month’s trade that send a conditional late-round pick to Baltimore for the 12-year veteran.
McKinnie, a former UM standout, has started two games for Miami leaning heavily on Incognito, who was responsible for translating all of the Dolphins’ offense into codes McKinnie was familiar with. That responsibility now falls on Garner’s shoulders.
“I’ve got to communicate with him so we can get our jobs done right,” Garner said. “Me and (Mike) Pouncey both talked to him throughout the whole (Bengals) game. He knows the offense well now and he’s been doing great.”
McKinnie’s addition has helped the Dolphins offensive line thrive in recent weeks, but he’s nursing a troublesome knee injury that has limited his practice participation.
Veteran tackle Will Yeatman, a former college tight end who was used plenty in an unbalanced line against the Bengals, rookie Dallas Thomas, a 2013 third-round pick who plays both guard and tackle, and offensive guard Danny Watkins, a 2010 first-round pick who was claimed off the waiver wire two months ago, are the three reserve on Miami’s 35-man roster.
It is possible that Martin and Incognito’s absence could lead to offensive tackle Jason Weaver or offensive guard Sam Brenner being called up from the practice squad. The Dolphins typically carry seven or eight offensive linemen on the game day roster.
“We’ve got a great group of guys,” Garner said of the offensive line, which has paved the way for a rushing attack that is averaging 144 yards the past three games. “We’re just going to go back to work, work hard together, and whatever happens, happens.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun