Dolphins draft preview: OL

With the 2005 NFL draft fast approaching, we take a look at the Dolphins' situation at each position along with a prediction as to what the team might do during the draft. This story looks at the offensive line.

There was no position on the Dolphins that struggled through a more difficult, painful, embarrassing -- you pick the adjective -- 2004 season than the offensive line.

Yet new coach Nick Saban seems to think that unit could make great strides in 2005 without having to overhaul the personnel.

In free agency, the Dolphins added former Detroit first-round pick Stockar McDougle and former Cleveland starter Damion Cook, but that's not the reason for the optimism.

The reason is the arrival of offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who replaces the much-maligned Tony Wise.

Houck is considered one of the O-line coaches in the NFL and he worked magic last season with a San Diego line that started two rookies and did not have any Pro Bowl talent on it.

Of course, it helped that the Chargers have LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield, but the point remains that Houck might have done as good a coaching job by an assistant last year as anybody in the league.

Entering the draft, there are few sure things on the Dolphins offensive line.

McDougle is expected to challenge for a starting job, probably at right tackle against incumbent John St. Clair.

St. Clair was the team's best offensive lineman last year -- not exactly a great achievement -- and there has been talk he might be moved to left tackle to compete with incumbent starter Damion McIntosh and 2004 first-round pick Vernon Carey.

McIntosh really struggled last season but he was coming off foot surgery and probably never was at 100 percent. Carey, for his part, was a major disappointment and it's not likely he'll be a major success at left tackle considering he's never played the position and he probably doesn't have the feet to protect the quarterback's blind side.

At center, Seth McKinney re-signed as a restricted free agent, but there's no guarantee he'll hang on to his starting job. He could face competition from either Wade Smith, the starting left tackle in 2003 and for the first two games of 2004, and Rex Hadnot, who showed a lot of promise as a rookie last season after starting a few games at right guard.

Hadnot could return to right guard next season if no one else is picked up, while the left guard spot figures to belong to Jeno James.

Either way, the offensive line does figure to be better than last season -- if for no other reason than it's almost mathematically impossible for it to be as bad.

But the offensive line will need to be a LOT better than it was last year, and whether that can be done with the personnel in place remains to be seen.

If the Dolphins hang on to the second overall pick on April 23, there is no prospect who justifies that standing so a lineman won't be picked that early.

It would make sense for the Dolphins to pick an offensive lineman at some point in the draft because this is a group that needs improvement from last year.

A left tackle, in particular, should be the priority because McIntosh was a bust last year, Carey's not a left tackle and St. Clair has balked in the past at playing left tackle.

If the Dolphins do trade the second overall pick from additional first-day picks, don't be surprised if one of those is used on a left tackle.


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