2004 DRAFT PREVIEW: OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

As the weekend of April 24-25 approaches, we preview the 2004 NFL draft with a series examining the top prospects at each position, how the Dolphins stands at each position and what the Dolphins might do at each position. We continue our series with a look at the offensive linemen.

The top prospects

There usually have been a lot of good prospects at offensive tackle in recent years, but that number is down this year. There is, however, a big-time prospect in the form of Iowa's Robert Gallery, who could be selected as early as first overall in this year's draft. But there is only one Gallery, and the list of clear blue-chip prospects is rather limited. At tackle, the next-best prospect is Arkansas' Shawn Andrews, who has all the physical attributes but comes into the draft with questions about his ability to maintain a workable weight. After Andrews, there is no sure-fire first-round pick. The list of the next tier of tackle prospects includes Jacob Rogers from USC, Nat Dorsey from Georgia Tech, Kelly Butler from Purdue, Carlos Joseph from the University of Miami, and Andrews' younger brother Stacy from the University of Mississippi. Some scouts view the University of Miami's Vernon Carey as an NFL offensive tackle, while others see him as a guard. Either way, he's the other offensive lineman expected to go in the first round. While injuries contributed to Carey not having a great senior season in 2003, he's another massive prospect with all the tools. Among the other prospects at guard are Justin Smiley from Alabama, Chris Snee from Boston College, Travelle Wharton from South Carolina and Sean Locklear from N.C. State. At center, the best prospect clearly is Virginia Tech's Jake Grove, and he could go as high as the second round. The other good center prospects are Alex Stepanovich from Ohio State, Nick Leckey from Kansas State and Nick Hardwick from Purdue.

The Dolphins situation

The Dolphins offensive line will have a whole new look in 2004, which was to be expected after all the problems the unit encountered last season. It's likely there will be four new starters, with second-year tackle Wade Smith the only holdover. Already, right tackle Todd Wade has left as a free agent, right guard Todd Perry and center Tim Ruddy have been released, and left guard Jamie Nails is an unrestricted free agent the Dolphins have no interest in re-signing. The Dolphins have added a lot of new faces this offseason, picking up guard Jeno James and tackles John St. Clair and Damion McIntosh. There could be more additions via free agency, with former Dallas and Chargers guard/tackle Solomon Page visiting earlier this week.

What the Dolphins might do

It's clear the Dolphins' offensive line is far from settled. At this point, the starting five probably would feature Smith at left tackle, James at left guard, Seth McKinney at center, Greg Jerman at right guard and St. Clair at right tackle. The Dolphins clearly would want to upgrade the right side. That's probably priority number one heading into the draft. If Shawn Andrews is available when the Dolphins get ready to select at No. 20 overall, they would be foolish to pass him up because he's a guy who could come in and start right away. Vernon Carey also would be awfully tempting at that spot. Any way this shakes out, the Dolphins figure to spend one of their first picks and perhaps another later on in the draft on an offensive lineman. It is that big a need.

Next up: The defensive linemen.


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