The bottom line on the O-line

Coach Nick Saban has been very consistent early in training camp about wanting to establish competition everywhere on his roster. That includes the offensive line, a group that will be under the miscroscope this season after its disastrous performance of a year ago.

The Dolphins have been looking to develop versatility up front, which is why they have had guys working at different positions, such as John St. Clair working at guard, Vernon Carey lining up left tackle and Damion McIntosh lining up at right tackle.

It might be a while before we find out what the starting unit will look like, something Saban made it very clear again on Friday.

Saban said he didn't have a timetable as to when he was looking to make a decision on a starting five before being asked whether he would feel uncomfortable not having his unit pinned down toward the end of the preseason.

"Are we speculating?" Saban replied. "I can't answer hypothetical questions. I know you guys are fishing. Whether we can or can't make the decision will be determined by the players. You have to let it happen.

"The competition is good. They are all playing the same slots. We are talking about seven guys and we need to have them interchangeable anyway. I am supposed to say that it is really important that we get the same five guys playing on the offensive line.

"It is really important because they play together and have chemistry. If one guy twists his ankle, big toe, or toe nail, then you have to play with somebody else. Is that an excuse that we can lose the game? That's just like asking how long it is going to take to turn a program around. How much time do you need? We don't need any. We are going to do what we can do right now because I am not going to give anybody an excuse not to succeed. You ask me all these hypothetical questions and they are insignificant to me for what we are trying to accomplish."

If you look at the comment closely, you will pick up a very interesting tidbit from Saban, that being that he's talking about seven guys.

He certainly wasn't going to name them by name, but based on what we've observed in the first week of training camp it's pretty safe to suggest that the list would include Stockar McDougle, Rex Hadnot, Seth McKinney, Jeno James, Vernon Carey, Damion McIntosh and John St. Clair.

The first five guys have been lining up with the first offense most of the time, with McIntosh briefly replacing McDougle at right tackle. We also included St. Clair because he's got experience and also because he did a solid job as the starting right tackle last year.

From our vantage point, the two battles that don't appear settled at left tackle and right guard.

Carey has looked so much better than he did in training camp last year, but he still might have to hold off McIntosh at some point. Saban indicated that McIntosh has been working at right tackle this camp precisely to acquire the type of versatility he wants up front.

As for right guard, Hadnot looks like a player, but St. Clair might have something to say about the job at some point.

The bottom line in watching the offensive line, though, is that it doesn't really matter who's starting. It just looks like it's going to be a much, much better group than it was last year.


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