Tannehill's blindside protector could mar the Dolphins' improved roster
On offense, GM Jeff Ireland surrounded second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill with weapons, adding premier deep threat Mike Wallace, a solid No. 3 receiver in Brandon Gibson, and a nice tight end in Dustin Keller. Ireland, however, may have overlooked one position that will be crucial to Tannehill taking the next step forward - left tackle.
Incumbent left tackle Jake Long headed over the St. Louis Rams in free agency after the Dolphins offered him less money than he had hoped for. That left the team with Jonathan Martin, who started 16 games as a rookie in 2012 - mostly at right tackle - but struggled when given the task of guarding the blindside.
Reports suggested that the Dolphins were "very optimistic" about Martin back in May, but the second year tackle has not done much since then to warrant that optimism. It is also worth noting that their "optimism" came just a couple weeks after a failed attempt to acquire Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert.
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Olivier Vernon - a third-round pick in the 2012 draft - "has owned Martin since the opening of camp." When you have high expectations for your franchise, the last thing you want to see is a player who had 3.5 sacks the previous season having his way one of the most important players on the field. Vernon got the better of Martin for three sacks on Thursday, while rookie Dion Jordan beat Martin for two sacks back on Wednesday.
Sending a turnstile out to cover Tannehill's blindside could prove extremely problematic for the Dolphins' offense. Pocket presence is one of the tougher skills to develop for young quarterbacks, and Tannehill could end up rushing throws because of his uncertainty of what is coming from behind him. In addition, the acquisition of Wallace could be a temporary bust if the offensive line can't block long enough to let him get open on deep routes.
I will say that I really like what the Dolphins have done this offseason, but not addressing the left tackle position could be a crippling mistake. The team probably should have found a way to lock up Jake Long or pull the trigger on a trade for Branden Albert. The performance of Martin could make a huge difference in how the team performs this season - if he keeps up what he's been doing in camp, they're in trouble, but if he can find a way to play like a second-round pick (which he was), they could be a threat in the AFC East.