POSITION ANALYSIS — OL

Before the start of the free agency signing period on Feb. 28, we will examine every position on the Dolphins, grade each player's performance in the 2002 season and evaluate the prospects for the 2003 season. We continue this series with the offensive line.

2002 SEASON RECAP

Todd Wade — The big right tackle had a solid year, as he continued to establish himself as a top-notch NFL player. Wade was very consistent in 2002 and didn't get beat very often in pass protection. Grade: B+

Todd Perry — Perry had a much better 2002 season than he did in 2001, although he didn't play nearly as well down the stretch. Perry was solid in the running game, although he will never be a dominant blocker. Grade: B

Tim Ruddy — Ruddy is another player who was much better in 2002 than 2001. Like Perry, though, he gets by more on technique than power and there were times in 2002 when he appeared physically overmatched. Grade: B-

Jamie Nails — The big story on the offensive line in 2002, Nails was voted a Pro Bowl alternate thanks to his solid work in the running game. His season was cut short by an Achilles injury in Game 14, but Nails really was a find for the Dolphins. Grade: A-

Mark Dixon — Dixon showed his versatility by moving from left guard to left tackle so the Dolphins could put Nails in the starting lineup, but it was obvious Dixon wasn't quite as effective at tackle. Part of the problem might have been Dixon's surgically repaired lower leg, which bothered him on and off throughout the season. Still, the Dolphins were much better with Dixon in the lineup than when he sat out because of an ankle sprain. Grade: B

Marcus Spriggs — The veteran started during Dixon's absence and played well initially, but then he really struggled, both in pass protection and the running game. Grade: C-

Seth McKinney — The rookie started two games late in the season at left guard, and showed good promise even though his play wasn't overwhelming by any stretch. Grade: B-

Greg Jerman — After making the team as an undrafted free agent, Jerman never got on the field during the regular season. Grade: Incomplete

Troy Andrew — Like Jerman, Andrew never saw action after rejoining the team from the practice squad. Grade: Inc.

OUTLOOK FOR 2003

There a couple of big question marks along the offensive line, starting with the center position and left tackle. Dixon started last year at left tackle, but the Dolphins would rather he play guard if he winds up re-signing with the team.

One possibility to address the position is going after Pittsburgh free agent Wayne Gandy, and that's a very plausible scenario. Walter Jones and Orlando Pace are better left tackles than Gandy, but they're likely to be franchised by their team and even if they're not, their price tag would be prohibitive.

It's not likely the Dolphins want to fill that position with a draft pick, considering they already have enough youth on the line.

At center, the Dolphins are looking to restructure the contract of Ruddy and the feeling is McKinney will be ready to start next season. And it probably won't be at center because the Dolphins already have Nails and Perry, and Dixon if he re-signs as an unrestricted free agent.

So the question is whether the Dolphins will keep both Ruddy and McKinney if they decide to start McKinney.

A lot of what the Dolphins do may depend upon whether Dixon re-signs. The thing that is clear is the Dolphins will have a new left tackle in 2003, and don't be surprised if it's Gandy.

Spriggs is an unrestricted free agent, and he's looking for an opportunity to start. That's not going to happen in Miami, so he's gone. Brent Smith also is a free agent, but he's missed the last two years because of knee injuries, so you can't count on him even if the Dolphins wind up re-signing him to a low-risk contract.


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