DAVIE—It’s been such a frustrating experience for Dolphins center Mike Pouncey standing on the sideline since last November that the thought of merely getting some 11-on-11 practice reps was enough to keep him awake the night before.
Pouncey, who is on a preseason maintenance program after undergoing hip surgery this offseason, moved past individual drills Saturday morning for the first time and took snaps with the first-string offense. He’s still unlikely to play in a preseason game until Aug. 24, but this was significant progress.
“I don’t know if I was nervous or just excited,” he said of his sleepless night. “I was just ready to get back out on the football field and, I hate to say it, but just making mistakes again. The only way to get better is you can make mistakes. Today was my first true test if I could go back out and play football, and it went well.”
Pouncey, 28, is a cornerstone of the offense, and coach Adam Gase often calls him the best center in the NFL. He played just five games last season, and Miami had three of its top four rushing performances of the year during his starts.
The Dolphins have been deliberately vague about their plan for Pouncey other than Gase saying the intent is for him to be ready for the season opener. Pouncey said it’s not a case of the injury hindering him.
“They’re not worried about that,” he said. “It’s all the way healed back up. It’s just that we want to ease back into it since I’ve been out for eight months… I feel ready. I’m ready to go. Whenever they tell me to go out there and play, I’ll be ready to play.”
Gase hinted that the team is eying the joint practices in Philadelphia as the time for Pouncey to get back to a regular workload. The Dolphins and Eagles will train together Aug. 21 and 22 leading up to their preseason game.
There had been talk that Pouncey wouldn’t play at all during the preseason, but he’s asking the staff to reconsider that.
“I’m going to talk with him about it because I know he wants to,” Gase said. “I just want to do the right thing. So I’m just going to keep thinking about it, keep talking with him, see how he feels out at practice. That Philly week will be a great indicator for us because just going against somebody different and when you do those practices against other teams, it’s a game feel for you every day.”
In the meantime, the offense could use some stability and few people provide it like Pouncey. It’s especially necessary with newcomer Jay Cutler stepping into the starting role. Cutler, who arrived Monday, moved into first-string offense for the first time Saturday as well.
The intended starting offensive line hasn’t appeared in a practice together and won’t for some time now that left guard Ted Larsen is out long term with a torn biceps. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil was out all last week because of a personal matter before returning Saturday, and a new injury has popped up with right tackle Ju’Wuan James.
The only lineman who’s been good to go all training camp is right guard Jermon Bushrod, and he’s the only one who has previous experience with Cutler.
James missed Thursday’s preseason game against Atlanta, an absence that was assumed to be simply for rest. Instead, he’s got a shoulder problem and rehabbed off to the side Saturday.
As for Cutler, his working relationship with Pouncey will be essential for the offense. Both have been loaded with tasks this week as Pouncey continues his rehab and Cutler does everything he can to expedite his acclimation to the team and get his conditioning level where it needs to be. Still, they’ve been putting in work on the quarterback-center exchange.
They had no issues with it Saturday.
“I don’t know the exact number, but we worked on it a lot,” Pouncey said. “He’s comfortable. I’m comfortable. We’re just getting used to his snap count and we’ll be ready to roll.”
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