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How Dolphins offensive line has quieted doubters and an outside the box move that helped

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

These Dolphins offensive linemen, arguably the league’s best as a group three weeks into the season, certainly aren’t ready to gloat, not in September, not before they face a ferocious Buffalo pass rush that produced nine sacks against Washington last Sunday.

So allow Tua Tagovailoa to do it for them.

“Being sacked really only once in three games, and everyone has been saying we need this on our o-line, we need that on our o-line, we need better this, we need better that,” Tagovailoa said. “[Their performance] is just a big middle finger to everyone that’s been saying that for our o-line. I think they’ve done a tremendous job.”

The line -- featuring two starters who had never played more than two NFL games at their current position entering this season -- has exceeded all expectations in every way.

The Dolphins have allowed only one sack in three games, which is tied with Kansas City for best in the league and marks the first time a Dolphins team has achieved that in its first three games since 1989.

With powerful and supremely executed first and second-level blocks, the Dolphins offensive line is paving holes for a running game that is averaging a league-best 188.3 yards rushing per game on an NFL-best 6.1 yards per carry.

“Those guys don’t get enough credit and it’s sad because those guys really have gotten a lot better, especially from last year,” running back Raheem Mostert said. “They improved last year. But this year they’re on a whole other level.

“They understand the assignments a lot better. You’ve got Butch Barry, who’s a phenomenal coach. I was with him in San Francisco and he’s going to bring that tenacity for the o-line, which you need, especially down in the trenches.”

As run blockers, this group seemingly has mastered the team’s zone blocking scheme -- with the usual staple of outside zone runs mixed with a smattering of effective inside zone runs.

The Dolphins aren’t just preventing sacks; they’re keeping their quarterback from even being hit.

Miami allowed just one QB hit against Denver and just five all season, fewest in the league.

What’s more, Tagovailoa was pressured on just two of 26 dropbacks against Denver.

Beyond Tagovailoa’s quick release and Mike McDaniel’s play-calls (which lead to quickly-developing plays), three offensive line developments, in particular, have helped early in the season:

▪ Left tackle play has been very good, including the two games started by Kendall Lamm (rated 32nd of 70 tackles by Pro Football Focus) and one game by Terron Armstead, who didn’t allow a single quarterback pressure in his 2023 debut against Denver.

▪ Starting right tackle Austin Jackson has been healthy and productive. Though he has given up one sack, he has permitted only four hurries in 110 pass blocking chances, much better than his career history. Jackson missed 15 games last season because of ankle injuries.

“I had a whole year off of football and I watched a lot of football in that time,” he said Monday. “Had a year of offseason to train and kind of understand what I want my game to look like. Watching defensive ends and how they rushed, studying habits that they have, I had a lot of mental focus because I lost my physical element. So I tried to regain that on the mental side in terms of what I studied and what I took away.”

This offensive system “fits a lot of my skill set,” Jackson added. “Definitely think that I can play to the advantage of my speed in this offense.”

▪ Isaiah Wynn, who had played only tackle in his first four years in the NFL (with New England), has flourished in his move back to left guard, where he hadn’t played since 2016 with the Georgia Bulldogs.

Wynn hasn’t permitted a single quarterback pressure in 109 pass blocking chances.

So is guard easier than tackle?

“It’s hard,” he said. “Any position is hard. You’ve got to keep working at it.”

The biggest adjustment moving to guard? “How quick everything happens,” he said. “They put me there and that’s where I’m rocking. It’s been real good. You can always get better. I’m not there yet, not all the way.”

McDaniel explained that he evaluated Wynn as a guard -- not a tackle -- coming out of Georgia: “He’s been a wonderful addition.”

What’s more, Connor Williams has blocked exceptionally well at center; PFF rates him the best run-blocking center in the league, the sixth-best pass-blocking center in the league and the No. 3 center overall. He has yielded just one quarterback pressure in 109 pass blocking chances.

And Robert Hunt has been very good at right guard; PFF rates him the eighth best guard in the league and 11th best as a run blocker. He has allowed only two quarterback pressures in 109 pass blocking snaps.

“He is very comfortable in the system, understands his angles, run targets and run blocking,” Jackson said of Hunt. “I think he even began to set more aggressive in pass-protection; I’ve seen him clamp a lot of guys at the line. He’s just growing at a fast rate. He’s already a wonderful player.”

Hiring Barry as offensive line coach - replacing Matt Applebaum - also has helped. According to several players, offensive coordinator Frank Smith had to spend considerable time helping coach the offensive line last season. That doesn’t appear to be the case this year.

Barry “has an unbelievable work ethic, energy towards what he does, a passion towards what he does,” Smith said. “When you can surround yourself with guys like that, good things tend to happen because they have that resolve to always make sure that we’re trying to get the best out of each other.”