Ryan Tannehill’s ability to communicate and cooperate with a potentially new center is something to worry about at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, the league’s loudest stadium. That’s where the Miami Dolphins open the regular season on Sept. 11, and that’s why the timeline on Mike Pouncey’s return from a hip injury is so vital.
Anthony Steen, a converted guard who never has played center in an NFL game, will give it a try in Thursday’s third preseason game against Atlanta. He gets the opportunity over Jamil Douglas, another converted guard who filled in at center during the last two games of 2015 during another Pouncey injury and had a nightmare experience.
Douglas snapped the ball prematurely, before Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins expected it, and a fourth-and-goal chance to pull out a game in the final minute against Indianapolis was ruined. Few players reacted at the snap of the ball and Tannehill was sacked to put the wrap on an 18-12 Dolphins loss.
Maybe Steen will be better suited to the emergency duty, but it’s a lot to ask. What new coach Adam Gase needs is a rapid solution on the order of what Samson Satele gave the Dolphins in 2014.
Pouncey missed the first four games of that season but Satele played so well in his absence that former Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wanted to keep both of them in the lineup when the opportunity presented itself. That happened when Pouncey came back in Game 5 and was moved to right guard, leaving Satele at center for the entire season.
If you’re thinking about Satele now, he didn’t play at all last year after getting tryouts with several NFL teams and is still floating around out there now so it figures he’s not physically up to the job any more.
In the next few weeks, however, all kinds of options will be considered by all kinds of coaches as the final cuts are made and rosters get reshuffled by new signings. No telling who still might wind up in Miami as insurance at center, or even as a possible starter.
And if you’re nearing a panic on this point, remember that no one player makes an offense work or bog down all by himself.
If Gase can get his offensive line figured out in the next few preseason games and if Tannehill can find some confidence with whoever is in his huddle, good things can still happen. It’s on Gase, and not just Steen, to make all of that happen.
As good as Pouncey is, for instance, I looked back at the games he has missed the last three seasons. Miami went 4-4 with him and 18-22 without him.
Tannehill, meanwhile, has his second-highest quarterback rating of the 2015 season with Douglas at center for the final game, a 20-10 win over New England. He completed 25 of 38 passes that day for 350 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack.
It might be encouraging for Steen to know that as he prepares to start at center Thursday in Orlando.
More encouraging to me would be the signing of a serviceable veteran center by Miami in the next few weeks, just in case Steen gets hurt or Pouncey stays hurt or any number of bad surprises come to offensive line coach Chris Foerster between now and Sept. 11.
Foerster was Miami’s offensive coordinator under head coach Dave Wanntstedt in 2004, when the 4-12 Dolphins had a solid center in Seth McKinney but problems just about everywhere else.