For months, the main concern for Miami Dolphins fans centered around Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey potentially missing the start of the regular season because of his involvement in last year's bullying scandal. Many wondered if a NFL-mandated suspension was looming, but it turns out it doesn't matter.
Pouncey will be sidelined anyway for the start of the 2014 season because of hip surgery, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. Pouncey is expected to miss the next three to four months, which includes all of training camp, the preseason and the start of the regular season.
This is a huge loss for Miami. A strong case can be made that Pouncey is the one player Miami can least afford to lose. Not only is Pouncey one of Miami's top two or three players, he is the center who works closest with young quarterback Ryan Tannehill and in charge of calling pre-snap protections at the line of scrimmage. Without Pouncey to start the regular season, the Dolphins are expected to have five new starters on the offensive line in Week 1.
Speaking of Week 1, that is when the rival New England Patriots come to Miami. The Dolphins are an awful 4-8 against division foes the past two seasons and need to start the division games on the right foot. The same goes for Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills, who swept the Dolphins last season. Both opponents have solid defensive lines who will look to take advantage of Miami's plight without Pouncey.
The Dolphins' offensive line was awful last year and allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks. New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey spent the entire offseason remaking the offensive line center around Pouncey. Now, Pouncey won't be available in September. Schefter also reports running back Knowshon Moreno will miss several weeks and should return at some point in training camp, which is of lesser concern.
Where does Miami go from here?
The Dolphins have three options at this stage. First, they can go with undrafted second-year player Sam Brenner, who received second-team reps at center this offseason and filled in at guard last season for the suspended Richie Incognito. Second, versatile backup Nate Garner also played center last season in place of Pouncey for two games and could be the second in-house plan. The third option is to look for outside help via trade or free agency, which could be slim pickings at this stage of the offseason.
Whatever choice Miami makes, it's replacement plan won't be nearly as good as Pouncey. He is one of the top centers in the NFL and the drop off will be significant no matter who plays in Week 1.
This is a make-or-break year for many in Miami's organization to make the playoffs. The Dolphins need a fast start to accomplish that task and it just became much more difficult.