Pouncey was probably the player the Dolphins could least afford to lose early in the season. According to his timeline, Pouncey could miss the first couple of games or even be put on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and miss the first six games, depending on his progress. Either way, it’s horrendous news for a Dolphins team trying to end a five-year playoff drought.
But now it’s time for Miami to move forward and find the best contingency plan possible. Here is a look at the Dolphins’ remaining options at center:
1. Sam Brenner
Why it can work: When Pouncey missed time during mandatory minicamp, Brenner was the starting center and received a bulk of the reps. That's a clue to what Miami’s top in-house contingency plan is. Brenner, as an undrafted rookie, shined at guard last year. He was a four-game starter who performed well in a short period and impressed the coaching staff. The Dolphins may ask him to do the same for a month or so to start this season.
Why it can’t work: Brenner has never started at center at any level. He played guard for the Dolphins last year and guard and left tackle in college for the University of Utah. The fact that Miami worked Brenner as the No. 2 center this offseason shows its coaching staff believes he can make the transition. But you never know for sure until Brenner performs well in a real game situation. Do the Dolphins want Brenner learning on the job against the AFC East rival New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills? Both opponents have good players on the defensive line.
2. Nate Garner
Why it can work: Garner is Miami’s most versatile backup. Despite his lanky frame (6-foot-7), Garner started at center for two games last season when Pouncey had a health ailment. The Dolphins were 1-1 in those games and Garner held his own. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin may revert back to what was comfortable for him last season in game situations (Garner) versus what he’s currently doing in practice (Brenner).
Why it can’t work: Garner hasn’t played center during the entire offseason program. Those reps went to Pouncey and Brenner. For the Dolphins to completely switch the plan at this stage and go back to Garner would seem like a patch-work idea. Garner’s biggest strength is he can play every position. But the bad news is he’s average -- at best -- at every position. Average may not be good enough in the middle of Miami’s offensive line.
Why it can work: Smith, who signed as a free agent from the St. Louis Rams this year, has experience at center. The Dolphins have looked into it a little just on an exploratory basis. But this option has to receive more consideration now that Pouncey is on the shelf. Smith is probably the best player of the aforementioned group.
Why it can’t work: Smith only has eight career starts in four seasons, including just two starts in 2013. It’s important for Miami to get Smith comfortable in his new surroundings and a new offense under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor. By all accounts, Smith is holding his own at right guard. Do the Dolphins want to take that momentum from Smith? I’ve never subscribed to the theory that you weaken one position (right guard) to fix the other (center). Now, you’ve weakened two positions.
The Dolphins have a full training camp and preseason to figure this out. Miami will take the field in Week 1 with a new center and without Pouncey on Sept. 7 against the Patriots.