TIME TO DRAW THE LINE

The Dolphins are halfway through their preseason schedule and the offensive line still isn't set. That's not what Coach Dave Wannstedt had in mind when training camp began, but the situation could be rectified soon.

Wannstedt said early in camp he wanted to have a starting five established sooner rather than later so the group could get some work together and start establishing some rapport and continuity.

But the process has been delayed because the competition simply has been too close.

But the time is fast approaching where Wannstedt won't have a choice but to settle on a starting offensive line. In fact, it could happen this weekend.

"We need to get this worked out by tomorrow," Wannstedt said on Friday, a day after the offensive line had an uneven performance in the 24-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints. "This will be the first week we go with the mind-set that this is the group we're looking at. If we do any major moving around, we're going to do it tonight and talk to the players about it tomorrow."

Few things appear totally set on the offensive line, although Wannstedt did say on Friday that center Tim Ruddy and right tackle Todd Wade are among his best five offensive linemen.

So that's two-fifths of the line right there.

The feeling throughout camp has been that Jamie Nails has played too well to be kept out of the starting lineup. And Wannstedt said on Friday that he wouldn't move Nails from the left guard spot, where he has been playing.

So pencil in Nails at left guard and call it three spots settled.

But where does that leave Mark Dixon, who has started at left guard for the past several years and always has been considered the team's best offensive lineman.

Dixon, who always has been overly self-critical, will tell you he is nowhere near top form as he tries to come back from last year's broken fibula. But, from this vantage point, he clearly is one of the five best O-linemen on this team and he needs to play.

But where? The only two spots remaining are left tackle and right guard.

Wannstedt said Friday that the biggest area of discussion when it comes to the offensive line would be the left tackle spot. Although he didn't say it, that's probably because neither Brent Smith nor Marcus Spriggs has stood out this summer.

Dixon hasn't played offensive tackle since his days in the CFL in 1997, but he's athletic enough and good enough to think he can make the switch and do a better job than either Smith or Spriggs.

At right guard, Todd Perry has been playing much better than he played last year, while veteran Leon Searcy still hasn't found his groove yet after two years on the sidelines because of injuries.

Perry looks like he deserves the starting spot at this point unless you move Dixon there.

But there is a much bigger need for Dixon at left tackle because that spot right now looks like the weak point on the line.

So there you have it — Dixon at left tackle, Nails at left guard, Ruddy at center, Perry at right guard, Wade at right tackle.

The reserves then would include Spriggs, Smith, Searcy and rookie center Seth McKinney, who is not quite ready to crack the starting lineup (although it will happen at some point). The Dolphins also like guard/center Troy Andrew, and it's certainly possible he could be kept instead of either Smith or Spriggs if our scenario plays out.

The bottom line is that we should know a lot more about the offensive line before the weekend is out.


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