AFC East: Shelly Smith


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.

James
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.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins officially put a bow on their 2014 offseason last week following the conclusion of mandatory minicamp. Miami had three consecutive days of spirited practices and ESPN.com's Dolphins blog was there to take in all the action.

Here are five things we learned about the Dolphins in minicamp:

1. Tannehill, offense shows growth

[+] EnlargeOlivier Vernon and Ryan Tannehill
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeAfter struggling on Day 1 of minicamp, Ryan Tannehill and the offense made strides.
Thoughts: To put it bluntly, the first day of minicamp was a disaster for Miami's offense and third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins gave up four sacks, threw three interceptions and was sloppy overall in team drills. Even the mild-mannered Tannehill became frustrated and yelled at his receivers. It appeared the defense would dominate the offense during this three-day camp. Miami's defense mostly has been together for three seasons, while the offense is in transition under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. But Tannehill and the offense showed growth in Day 2 and Day 3 with more even performances. Lazor's group must continue to make strides in training camp in order to not become the weak link of the team to start the regular season.

2. Hope for second-year players

Thoughts: It is well documented that the Dolphins got very little from their rookie class last season. Miami had the third fewest snaps from rookie players in 2013, and many in South Florida had written off players from that class as draft busts in the making. But as the offseason progressed and peaked at minicamp, second-year players such as guard Dallas Thomas, defensive end Dion Jordan and cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis made more and more plays in practice, proving that there is hope for Miami's much-maligned 2013 draft class. Miami's second-year players could play a key role in whether the Dolphins make the jump this year from an average team to a team with playoff potential. All the aforementioned players had a productive offseason.

3. Offensive line still a work in progress

Thoughts: The Dolphins' two offensive lines in the white-and-aqua scrimmage allowed seven sacks. That stat was reminiscent of last season, when Miami's offensive line allowed a franchise-record 58 quarterback sacks in 16 games. The Dolphins invested a lot of money and resources into this group with the expectation that the pass protection with be much better. Miami paid $47 million for Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert. The Dolphins also spent a first-round draft pick on rookie right tackle Ja'Waun James and signed guard Shelley Smith in free agency. With four new starters, Miami's offensive line must get on the same page in training camp.

4. Dolphins in relative good shape

Thoughts: This is the time of year when freak injuries happen in the NFL. Around the league there have been several injuries during the offseason program. The Dolphins are fortunate to not be one of those teams to suffer anything catastrophic. Miami did a good job with maintenance of veteran players such as cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive tackle Jared Odrick, wide receiver Brandon Gibson and linebacker Koa Misi. The only player to keep an eye on in the next month is running back Knowshon Moreno. The Dolphins kept him out of minicamp and has been mum on his injury, but Profootballtalk.com reports Moreno has an ailing knee. Moreno is competing for a starting job at running back with Lamar Miller and must be healthy in order to win the job.

5. Receiver position toughest to gauge

Thoughts: Miami's coaching staff will have a tough time in training camp narrowing the roster down to six receivers. The Dolphins currently have a deep group of 13 receivers led by starters Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. But it's the various receivers behind them that will make it a tough decision. The Dolphins had various production from receivers at different times in minicamp and organized team activities. Players such as Gibson, rookie Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews, Damian Williams, Armon Binns and Matt Hazel all had their moments. Miami will be looking for the most consistent receivers to step forward in training camp. The three-way competition at the slot position between Gibson, Landry and Matthews is particularly intriguing. It's been close the entire offseason.

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AFC EAST SCOREBOARD

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