DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins lost Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert, arguably their most consistent offensive player, on Sunday. Miami will put Albert on season-ending injured reserve; according to a source, he has dual ACL and MCL tears in his right knee.
Albert's recovery time is expected to be nine to 12 months. But the Dolphins (5-4), who are battling for a playoff spot in the AFC, cannot afford to sulk. They have the Buffalo Bills (5-4) visiting Sun Life Stadium on Thursday in a big game for both teams.
The spotlight now is on first-round pick Ja'Wuan James. He thrived at right tackle in the first nine games and developed into one of the NFL's top rookies. But James' responsibility becomes even greater as he protects Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's blind side for the remainder of the season.
James must make some important adjustments while going from right tackle to left tackle. For starters, he will face most opponents' best pass-rushers on the left side. There are also subtle things mechanically that James must adjust to on a short week.
James' playing style fits at left tackle, although he played mostly on the right side in college at Tennessee. James' pass protection is ahead of his run blocking at this stage in his career. Coach Joe Philbin also described James on Monday as a "good athlete" and "smart guy." Miami will need all those traits to show in the final seven games.
Miami's entire offensive line will be remade with Albert sidelined for the season. In addition to James moving to left tackle, Dallas Thomas moved to right tackle and Shelley Smith moved to left guard. Philbin said that is the lineup you will likely see Thursday against Buffalo, with perhaps a wild card being the health of Daryn Colledge, who missed the past two games with a back injury.
But the most important piece on Miami's offensive line is James, who must rise to the occasion if the Dolphins expect to make a playoff push in the season's second half.