The Miami Dolphins parted ways with two of their three starting interior offensive linemen from 2020 and have avoided any splash moves this offseason, but could that be one of the most improved units on the team?
Ted Karras and Ereck Flowers filled in at center and left guard last season. Both have moved on, with Flowers being traded to Washington and Karras choosing to sign with New England. Flowers and Karras were average, not spectacular, starters for the Dolphins. They’ll be missed, but it’s time to strive for something more than just average.
That’s the whole point of this teardown and rebuild, correct? To pull the Dolphins out of this decades-long rut of mediocrity. They do that by hitting on and developing draft picks and making financially prudent moves in free agency.
That’s exactly what Miami is doing this season. Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley are likely to man the two guard spots and Matt Skura has been brought in on an inexpensive veteran deal. There’s a chance for some slight regression, but the long-term payout could be enormous.
If the season was to start today, these are the players that I would project as starters along the interior at left guard, center, and right guard — barring injury. We shouldn’t forget that many of these players have positional flexibility and coaches could shuffle this up before the first regular season game.
Robert Hunt, Right Guard
Hunt was one of the better rookie tackles from a loaded class of them in 2020. PFF graded him smack dab in the middle, right behind Tristan Wirfs and Mekhi Becton, but ahead of Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills, and Miami’s own Austin Jackson. He surrendered the same number of pressures as Becton (23) while playing more pass-blocking snaps. Hunt hasn’t received much national attention, but he deserves it.
It may seem like an odd choice, but sliding Hunt from tackle to guard is a prudent move. As I discussed in a previously, Hunt’s “shorter arms, average agility, and experience at guard led many scouts to conclude his best chance of success meant kicking inside.” Though it isn’t just Hunt’s shortcomings that will likely drive the move, it’s his strengths as well.
Hunt is a bully on the football field. As a rookie, he made a habit of physically dominating the guy in front of him. His power and run blocking prowess will be of more use from the interior. Here is a minute and fourteen seconds of him showing off that power from the tackle spot in 2020.
So how can moving to guard help mask deficiencies for Hunt? He isn’t a finesse player and hasn’t shown the feet and lateral agility to deal with longer and more athletic pass rushers.
In a phone booth — a colloquial term used to describe playing on the interior — he doesn’t need to worry about rushers bending the edge and countering back to the inside. He has significantly less ground to cover in pass sets and will usually face off against bigger and slower players.
By moving Hunt to guard, the Dolphins will highlight his strengths while mitigating his shortcomings. Expect him to hit the ground running and don’t be surprised if he earns himself some post-season awards in 2021.
Solomon Kindley, Left Guard
I will openly admit that I wasn’t on the Kindley hype train when it first left the station. He still needs to make improvements, but man was he impressive upon rewatching his 2020 snaps.
Kindley is a massive dude, but don’t bite on the narrative that he can’t pull or get his hands on guys in space-he can. He isn’t the most fleet of foot-seldom are 330-pound men — but some of his best plays from 2020 are in space. Below we can see how effective he can be when asked to pull or make a block in space.
Lets not get carried away though, Kindley is still a power player-much like Hunt. His movement isn’t a glaring weakness, but he doesn’t have the feet to mirror elite pass rushers or the athleticism to be consistently effective on outside runs.
Even with those athletic limitations, he did a great job in pass blocking last year. Kindley finished the season surrendering only seventeen pressures, per PFF. That was good for 37th in the NFL among starting guards and tied with Joel Bitonio and Joe Thuney. As a reminder, he did this as a rookie.
While that is an impressive stat, there’s still room to grow. Below we can see Kindley’s worst pass sets from the interior in 2020.
What’s are some common errors on these plays?
- One of the biggest improvements he can make is his posture. On the majority of these plays, he gets caught leaning. He isn’t sinking into his hips with a straight back, but rather bending forward to engage his defender. This puts his weight in front of his feet and leaves him off balance. It’s like trying to perform a back squat with all your weight on your toes — it won’t work.
- The second major issue is his punch. On some of these plays, he tries to bear hug rather than driving his palms into the defender’s pecs and shoulder pad area. You want to have your elbows in tight and forcefully drive your hands into the defender’s chest and shoulder pads to disrupt his movement and more importantly get your mitts on those pads.
- His final issue is just patience. Pass blocking is like a game inside of a game. You want your opponent to show their cards first so you can counter off of that. Kindley will throw his hands out too early, but doesn’t have the athleticism to recover when that first shot misses. Some of these are jump sets, but he still needs to be patient and trust his technique.
It also doesn’t help when he face off against two of the best interior rushers in the game — Chris Jones and Aaron Donald.
While I’m sure he’s already been working on some of these mistakes, these are things to keep an eye on. Kindley had an impressive rookie year and if he can clean up these technical errors, he could take a major step forward in 2021.
Matt Skura, Center
This could be the most hotly contested camp battle along the interior offensive line, but I would expect Skura to prevail. Skura was an undrafted center out of Duke in 2016 and served as the Baltimore Ravens starting center from 2017-2020.
Skura was progressing nicely in his career until he suffered a devastating knee injury in week 12 of 2019. Miraculously, Skura was able to return for the beginning of 2020. Skura hit another rough patch in 2020 when he lost his starting job because of problems snapping. There were a number of reasons why they happened-most notably a cut on his snapping hand and a torrential downpour week 10 at New England, but Skura is on a mission to put those behind him.
“I’m someone who really doesn’t like to make excuses, I don’t care if it’s a blizzard or a hale storm or whatever it is, that’s something that I have to take responsibility for,” Skura said. “So that’s been one of the main things in this offseason, literally everyday snapping whether it’s getting in ten snaps in or thirty snaps in whenever I can-that time permits for myself- I’m doing snaps, doing o-line drills and doing everything I can to make myself feel prepared.”
The real Skura
But let’s take a look at who Skura was before these trying events altered his career. To put it plainly, in 2019, Skura was a better player than Miami’s previous two centers — Karras and Daniel Kilgore. His high-end play was impressive and he looked like the same player in 2020 before he had issues with snaps.
He showed solid technique and leverage play-in and play-out. He’s also deadly in space. On some of these plays, he’s asked to pull and lead block on a running play and is always in perfect position to neutralize his defender. When you get into space it’s all about angles, and Skura knows how to properly use them.
I’m a big fan of Skura, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking there’s no risk here. If he has a botched snap here or there, will it snowball into something like in 2020? There’s no way to know, but Miami hasn’t invested too much here. If he shows up and plays the way he’s capable of, this is a slam dunk signing.
Depth and developmental players
If there’s one thing that separates this group from previous ones, it’s depth. When injuries happen, there are a number of players that can step in and provide competent play at all three positions on the offensive line. The Dolphins haven’t been able to say that for a few seasons and you can guarantee it will impact the season and the effectiveness of their interior offensive line.
Michael Deiter, Guard/Center
Deiter is a tough one to put my finger on. In 2019, Chris Grier used the 78th pick to select the Wisconsin guard. He played just under a thousand snaps in 2019, but then disappeared in 2020.
He did struggle mightily in 2019, but I am a bit surprised that there wasn’t more of an effort to get him on the field in 2020. Jesse Davis, who will be 30-years-old this season, started eight games at guard over Deiter. Davis has shown himself to be a quality depth piece and an average NFL player, but probably not a building block for the future. If the goal is to give these young players reps, what does that say about Deiter’s current level of play?
This is of course all speculation. Since we didn’t see much of him, we can’t know for sure where he is. His only extended action from 2020 is displayed below.
We can see some improvement from 2019 to 2020, but nothing that really stands out. It has to be mildly frustrating to spend a top 80 pick on an interior offensive lineman and not see more development.
The key here is going to be his ability to see the field. Dieter’s best shot at starting is likely at center. With Jesse Davis and D.J. Fluker also on the roster, Deiter will not get much of a look at guard.
It isn’t impossible by any stretch, but Deiter will need to take a massive step forward this year to get his career back on track.
D.J. Fluker, Guard/Tackle
Adding D.J. Fluker was an underrated move. He can step in at guard on the interior or tackle and will provide a lot in the run game at either spot. Fluker really is an old-school kind of offensive lineman as he doesn’t have great movement skills, but has a ton of power to his game. It’s why he was such a great fit for the Ravens — one of only three teams that ran the ball more than they passed in 2020.
With that said, I didn’t like what I saw in his pass sets. Baltimore protects its offensive tackles with boot action, play action, RPO’s, etc, but things didn’t look great when Fluker was asked to block an edge defender one on one in a true pass set. I would be comfortable with him stepping in at guard, but he’ll be a liability at tackle in Miami’s offense.
Jesse Davis, Center/Guard/Tackle
Dolphins fans should be really familiar with Davis by now. Davis joined Miami as an undrafted free agent back in 2016 and has played in at least 15 games each season since 2017. He has steadily improved each year in the league, but one has to question how high his ceiling can actually be.
Let’s be clear, though, Davis is an average tackle or guard in the NFL which is valuable. The fact that he can play either — and maybe even center — makes him an incredible sixth lineman. He’ll turn 30 this season, so I wouldn’t bet on some kind of a breakout here, but who knows?
Davis has been a Dolphin for a while now and I don’t want to see him go anywhere. Even if he just serves as a backup, he’s a valuable part of this offensive line and team.
An undrafted tackle out of Middle Tennessee State, Jones is likely an interior guard in the NFL. He also didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school and understandably is quite raw. He showed a ton of promise as a run blocker, but still has a ways to go on pass sets.
Jones was a Senior Bowl participant and caught the eyes of Miami’s coaching staff. The Dolphins gave him $130,000 guaranteed money to come to Miami. The fact that he worked with Miami’s coaches also had a lot to do with why he chose the Dolphins.
“The coaching staff, I did work with them at the Senior Bowl, I just feel like that coaching staff wanted the best out of every player even if they were going to a different team,” Jones said.
Undrafted free agents don’t typically make an immediate impact in the NFL and it would be surprising if Jones did. He has an outside shot at making the 53-man roster but considering how much Miami paid him, he may have a leg up there. Look for Jones to gain more experience and possibly make an impact down the road in Miami.
Earlier in the off-season, I had concerns about this group. There were a few big-name free agent interior offensive linemen that I was hoping Miami would target, but I’m glad they didn’t. Moving Hunt to the interior and drafting Liam Eichenberg should strengthen the offensive line immediately.
I would expect Hunt to be the standout from this group, but Kindley could take a big step in year two as well. Skura is the wild card of the group. If his issues snapping the football are truly behind him, Miami got an absolute steal when they signed him.
D.J. Fluker and Jesse Davis should provide solid depth and could even start if one of the younger players is injured or struggles. This may well be a make or break year for Michael Deiter. If he’s buried on the depth chart again, Miami could start looking for other options to take that roster spot. There weren’t any big moves or early draft picks aimed at addressing the interior, but it could easily be the most improved position group on the team.