2004 Season Review: O-line

With the Dolphins' dismal 2004 season now over, we take a look back with a position-by-position evaluation as well as a look forward to what the offseason might bring. Today we examine the offensive line.

Overview

Center Seth McKinney said during one of the minicamps that no matter what all eyes would be on the offensive line throughout the course of the 2004 season. Well, he was right. Unfortunately, the attention wasn't a good thing. The Dolphins had their problems everywhere on offense in 2004, but nowhere more than on the offensive line. The performance up front actually digressed from the previous season, which was considered almost impossible given the struggles of 2003. Those struggles had led to wholesale changes along the line, with Todd Perry, Tim Ruddy and Jamie Nails not re-signed and Todd Wade allowed to leave via free agency when the Dolphins decided he wasn't worth the five-year, $30 million offer he got from the Houston Texans. The only returning starter was Wade Smith, but he was benched after a poor summer and two mediocre performances in the first two games of the regular season. So the season progressed with an entirely new line consisting of free agent acquisitions Damion McIntosh, Jeno James and John St. Clair, along with former draft picks McKinney and Taylor Whitley. Late in the season it was Whitley's turn to get benched, this time in favor of rookie sixth-round pick Rex Hadnot. Offensive line coach Tony Wise stopped talking to the media midway through the season, and it might have been difficult to blame him because it sure wasn't like he could have a lot of nice things to say about his troops.

Damion McIntosh: McIntosh wasn't a great player in San Diego, so it was unfair to expect him to come to Miami and become great in South Florida, especially considering the fact he underwent ankle surgery in March. But McIntosh wasn't even mediocre in 2004, between a lot of false-start penalties and missed blocks, it was a long year for him.

Jeno James: Coming off his first full season as a starter in Carolina, and a solid one at that, James was expected to be the anchor of the line. But while his play improved as the season went on, he, too, had his share of problems.

Seth McKinney: The Dolphins kept saying over the previous two years that McKinney was ready to play but simply couldn't move Ruddy out of the lineup. The wonder was always how McKinney could stay on the bench if he was so good when the line as a whole was struggling so much. We found out a little bit in 2004; McKinney might have potential but he is far from a finished product. All year we kept hearing about his problems making line calls, which is not a good thing for a center.

Taylor Whitley: The Dolphins drafted him in the third round in 2003 and he was inactive as a rookie. Now, we can safely say this was a bad, bad pick. Whitley very well might have been the weakest link of a very bad line in 2004.

John St. Clair: The Dolphins coaches said all year St. Clair was their best offensive lineman, and by all appearances he was. Without benefit of studying game film, he did appear to make the least mistakes of anybody up front.

Vernon Carey: It was because they said St. Clair was playing too well that Carey remained on the bench all season. But that doesn't change the fact that a No. 1 pick sitting as a rookie isn't good, particularly when you give up a fourth-round pick just to move up one spot to make sure you get him. The Dolphins moved Carey at guard a couple of times during the season, but decided he was better off at tackle. The bottom line is this guy better get on the field next season, or something will be very wrong. Right now, this is looking like an awful pick.

Rex Hadnot: There weren't many reasons for optimism on the offensive line this season, but the play of Hadnot was one of them. Yes, he made some mistakes (both mental and physical), but also acquitted himself pretty well when he started.

Wade Smith: After having a pretty impressive rookie season (the nightmare against Dwight Freeney notwithstanding), Smith looked like a promising prospect at left tackle. But he took a major step backward instead of moving forward. He looked bad all summer and in the first two games. One wonders, however, why he never got another shot with the way McIntosh was struggling in his place.

Greg Jerman: He was inactive for 14 games, which should tell you all you need to know.

Looking ahead

You can talk all you want about the Dolphins needing to get themselves a franchise quarterback and a top-notch running back, but none of that will matter if the play up front doesn't improve. Things did get better in the last few weeks of the regular season and you saw the offense start producing a little more. The guys on this year's line will tell you they'll get better if they get a chance to work together some more, but it's clear an upgrade is needed at left tackle. Beyond that, it's not impossible the other four guys could be back. It also would be nice to get Carey into the lineup, but there's no guarantee that will happen because neither he nor St. Clair is suited to play left tackle.


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