The battle for perhaps the most unsettled and competitive position on the Miami Dolphins started months ago — way before Liam Eichenberg was selected in the second round of the NFL draft.
After the club’s 2020 season, the coaching staff watched tape of every player in every game then evaluated what they saw. And looking ahead to the 2021 season, head coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier apparently agreed they might like starting right tackle Robert Hunt more as a right guard.
That opened the right tackle spot for the taking.
And that, by the way, was no small decision because right tackle for the Dolphins is quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s blind side — a lefty quarterback’s equivalent to left tackle for a right-handed thrower.
Hunt started 11 games, including the last six, at right tackle in 2020 and acquitted himself well enough considering his experience. But apparently the brain trust saw something that suggested they could do better for Hunt and the team by moving him to an interior line spot.
So what happens now at right tackle?
What happens with Tagovailoa’s blind side?
Well, the Dolphins will tell you every starting job on the offensive line is open and that could be true to some degree.
But if Austin Jackson, a 2020 first-round pick, isn’t the starting left tackle, something’s wrong. If Hunt, a second-round pick in 2020, cannot win the guard job, something’s wrong. If Matt Skura, signed as an unrestricted free agent to be the starting center, isn’t the starting center, you guessed it ...
Unlike the other positions, there is no one player favored to put that starting job on lock.
But the good news is the Dolphins might have more good candidates to start at right tackle than any other position on the roster.
There’s Jesse Davis, who has started 19 games at right tackle for Miami dating back to 2017.
There’s D.J. Fluker, who has started 39 games at right tackle, for San Diego Chargers in 2013-14 and the Baltimore Ravens last season.
There’s Hunt, if the Dolphins change their mind after seeing how everyone works in training camp.
And, of course, there’s Eichenberg.
It’s impossible to say Eichenberg is definitely going to play right tackle for the Dolphins this season. Because offensive line coach Lemuel Jeanpierre and head strength and conditioning coach Dave Puloka just got their hands on him all of two days ago at the start of the team’s rookie minicamp.
“Right now it’s about being consistent,” Eichenberg said Saturday. “I’ve only had two days of practice. I mean, I just want to improve. It’s not about starting right now. It’s about improving every single day from being on the field and also in the meeting rooms — understanding the offense.
“You know there’s a lot going on with the offense so first off I have to get that down.”
But Eichenberg is a second-round pick. He was the No. 42 overall selection, which Miami made after trading up from the No. 50 spot.
The Dolphins gave up a 2022 third-round pick to move up those eight slots to take Eichenberg. They didn’t make that investment expecting him to provide depth somewhere.
Eichenberg needs to factor in the starting lineup competition.
And he wants to.
“I mean, eventually,” Eichenberg conceded, “ but right now it’s just about improving.”
Eichenberg was the first Notre Dame player selected in the 2021 draf. And while it’s not fair to expect him to perform to the heights of Zack Martin, Quenton Nelson or Mike McGlinchey — past Fighting Irish linemen who have performed at very high levels in the NFL — it is fair to expect to see Eichenberg show a similar attitude.
That part seems somewhat likely.
Eichenberg, you see, was apparently clean shaven and neatly combed during his pre-draft Zoom interviews with NFL teams. On Saturday he was sporting a burgeoning beard and shaved head more befitting the player who once finished a game against FSU despite having his left eye swollen completely shut from the battle.
Eichenberg’s explanation for resetting his look?
“Kind of something I do for football,” he said. “It puts me in the mindset.”
A rough cut offensive lineman look and mindset?
“Yeah, definitely,” he said.