Miami Dolphins’ fortunes revolve around Ryan Tannehill’s knee, putting heat on ‘new person’ Laremy Tunsil

Laremy Tunsil ‘played like a rookie’ in his first season at left tackle, one Dolphins coach said. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Note: This continues a series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2018.)

OT Laremy Tunsil

Height, weight: 6-5, 318

College: Ole Miss

Age: Will be 24 this season

Experience: Third season, all with Dolphins

Acquired: First-round pick in 2016

Contract: In third year of his four-year, $12.4 million rookie deal

Pro Football Focus rank: 47th out of 81

In 2017

Stats: Started 15 games

Straight talk: Long after last season ended, coach Adam Gase was still counting up all the curveballs thrown the Dolphins’ way.

You can include Tunsil’s first season at left tackle among them.

The Dolphins thought they had a steal when Tunsil fell to them in the 2016 draft, and if they thought they could just plug him in at his natural position, left tackle, after a rookie season at guard, both the team and the player learned that wasn’t the case.

L.T. the LT still has some growing to do.

“There’s probably a lot of us sitting here that thought it would be an easy transition for him,” Gase said.

One of them isn’t Tunsil.

“I never assumed it was going to be easy,” Tunsil said. “Playing left tackle at the highest level of football, I never thought it would be easy.”

It wasn’t until the offseason workouts were ending that Tunsil truly opened up on his performance in 2017.

“It was a bad taste — a horrible taste,” he said. ” … I knew I could have been better. Now I’m here, a new season, a new person. Let’s get it.”

As last season wore on, Gase said he saw “a different side” of Tunsil, one in which he developed a better sense of professionalism. Tunsil knew things had to change to cut down on sacks allowed and penalties, including avoidable pre-snap infractions.

“At times I think he would tell you that he’s felt like a rookie and he’s played like a rookie,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said in December.

Tunsil didn’t offer a dissenting opinion. Asked what he took from his 2017 performance, he said, “It was a bad taste — a horrible taste.”

Even in the memorable Monday night win over the Patriots, things weren’t as they needed to be. Gase described Tunsil’s inconsistent play as “four good, one bad,” which won’t cut it going against elite pass rushers.

Despite an affable personality, there were stretches last year in which Tunsil kept to himself, declining interview requests in what could be seen as a sign of frustration. One exception was in early December, when he was asked how he could better deal with speed off the edge.

“Continue to get better with my practice habits and just work,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Prospects for 2018

The Dolphins remain optimistic Tunsil will be the player they expected him to be when he was drafted, so there’s a good chance he’ll be Miami’s left tackle for years to come. Improvement must come immediately, because he’ll be the main bodyguard for Ryan Tannehill and Tannehill’s surgically repaired knee.

One positive development this offseason was the acquisition of former Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton from the Bears and Packers, who should give Tunsil a Branden Albert-like veteran who can offer advice and support.

“That was something that I brought up myself,” Sitton said, referring to when he was negotiating to sign with the Dolphins. “I’ve always been that type of player, to give my knowledge or whatever to anybody that is younger than me, and especially going into Year 11 now, I’ve learned a lot, a lot thing. I think it’s your duty as an older guy to bring those young guys along with you.”

Tunsil says he’s ready to go.

“A new season, a new person,” he said. “Let’s get it.”


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Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil ready to move on from ‘horrible taste’ of 2017 season

Laremy Tunsil is ready for a comeback . (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Nobody needs to tell Laremy Tunsil last season didn’t go well for him. It’s been on his mind for months.

In his move from left guard back to his natural spot at left tackle, he struggled with missed assignments, inconsistency and just straight-up getting beat by defensive ends. The Dolphins’ coaching staff thought it’d be an easy transition for him, but that’s one of the toughest positions in the game regardless of how familiar a player is with it.

Tunsil’s not hiding from how poorly he played, but he’s not going to stay stuck on it, either.

“It was a bad taste, a horrible taste,” he said today when Miami wrapped up its offseason practices. “I just wanted to improve my game. That’s the main thing I was dwelling on. I know I could’ve been better.

“Now I’m here and it’s a new season, new person. Let’s get it.”

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Burying the past is probably for the best, and Tunsil’s right to think of this as a fresh start.

He spent a lot of time analyzing film of his mistakes in the offseason, zeroing in on his worst games and thinking through the corrections. New offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn has been an uplifting influence on him after a chaotic year for that unit last season and he’s intent on keeping everything positive for Tunsil. He’s also got a new wingman at left guard in Josh Sitton, a four-time Pro Bowler with a decade of experience.

All of those elements are working together to set Tunsil up for a bounce-back year.

“I just wanted to work on my overall game: pass, set, run game — anything,” he said. “I just wanted to be a complete player.”

Sitton’s presence, both as a mentor and as a better player than anyone Miami had at left guard, is gives the Dolphins good cause for optimism with Tunsil. If he stays healthy, he’ll make Tunsil’s job easier and steady the line.

Sitton said last month he’s eager to help Tunsil and their relationship is already off to a good start. They’ve spoken extensively throughout the offseason, and Sitton is setting the example the Dolphins want Tunsil to follow.

“The guy you’re playing next to, you see how he operates,” coach Adam Gase said. “You see how he works in meeting rooms and then comes on the field and works individually. That’s the thing I’ve been most impressed with.

“I think (Tunsil) being able to talk to him every day, as far as, ‘Hey, what do we want to do here?’ or ‘How do we want to set on these pass rushes?’ — those two guys working in tandem is going to be a big thing for us.”

The Dolphins’ overhaul of their offensive hinges largely on whether Tunsil is able to establish himself as the top-quality left tackle they envisioned when they drafted him 13th overall in 2016.

They started him at left guard because Branden Albert was at left tackle, then offloaded Albert to Jacksonville to make room for Tunsil’s triumphant return to the position last season. It didn’t go as planned.

“I never assumed it was going to be easy,” said Tunsil, who was a left tackle his entire career prior to his rookie season. “Playing left tackle at the highest level of football, I never thought it’d be easy.

“It’s very natural, but it’s the highest point of the game. You get what I’m saying? You’re going against some of the best athletes in the game. It’s always going to be a competition every week.”

Now they’ll line him and Sitton up on the left side next to new center Daniel Kilgore, a much more affordable option than three-time Pro Bowl pick Mike Pouncey. Jesse Davis is done jumping around and has settled in at right guard next to tackle Ja’Wuan James. Those moves won’t matter much, though, unless Tunsil turns it around.

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What Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said Tuesday (OTAs)

Adam Gase and DeVante Parker working on the Paso Doble at practice. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins are in their final few days of offseason practice before taking a month off leading up to training camp. By now, their retooled offense should be looking much better, and coach Adam Gase was mildly pleased with this morning’s practice.

With two practices remaining in Organized Team Activities, here are some updates from Gase:

— Left guard Josh Sitton did not practice today. Gase declined to say whether it was injury-related. “I don’t have to tell you,” he said.

— Wide receiver Isaiah Ford, a seventh-round pick last year, has looked good in offseason practices so far. “He’s been very productive this spring,” Gase said. The question is how he’ll do once he faces live competition in preseason games, which he was unable to do last year because of injury.

— Rookie running back Kalen Ballage has been picking up the offense quickly, handling everything from run plays to lining up as a receiver to blocking.

— Gase sees that Ryan Tannehill is clearly the leader of the team, reclaiming his spot. “He jumped right back in there, and guys rallied around him,” he said.

— The no-huddle work went well today. “It’s tough when it’s (hot) out there and you go so many plays in a row,” Gase said. “We’re seeing if guys can execute when they get tired.”

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Dolphins’ offseason drama peaks with Josh Sitton’s beard decision

The heat is wearing on Josh Sitton. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — His initial plunge into Organized Team Activities and minicamp with the Dolphins has pushed right guard Josh Sitton to the brink of parting with trademark wilderness man look.

After a decade in the cooler climates of Chicago and Wisconsin, Sitton’s been sweating through a brutal spring that’s seen temperatures over 90 degrees and South Florida’s usual humidity. He admitted two weeks ago it might be time to cut his long locks and shave his beard.

That’s somewhat understandable, but here’s the counterpoint: Defensive coordinator Matt Burke has had his long beard for a decade-plus now and it doesn’t seem to be bothering him.

Should Sitton man up and get it out? Would it be selling out to clean up because it’s too hot down here? Would fellow facial hair aficionado Burke lose respect for him?

“No, I would never say that,” Burke said. “I have a lot of respect for Josh Sitton. Quote that. He’s been getting after us pretty good.

“I don’t know. Every man makes his own decision. The heat doesn’t bother me. I’m sweating a little right now. But no, I wouldn’t lose respect for him. He’s a good player, he’s playing hard and he’s tough. What else can I say about him? He’s a real man.”

Sitton’s had his long hair and beard for about 10 years as well, though he kept it close-cropped in college. When discussing the possibility of having to cut it, he admitted he would “probably cry” about having to do so.

“I’ve thought about it,” he said. “I’m going to see how OTAs go and then it might be gone come training camp.”

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Laremy Tunsil, Josh Sitton cohesive on left side of Miami Dolphins’ o-line

The Dolphins need Laremy Tunsil to be one of the top left tackles in the league. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The Dolphins’ philosophy on signing left guard Josh Sitton was twofold. Not only did they need to bulk up the interior of their offensive, but they believed he would instantly make left tackle Laremy Tunsil better.

Tunsil struggled last season after playing at left guard as a rookie, which surprised him and the team because he’s been a left tackle all his life. Adding an 11th-year veteran of Sitton’s caliber alongside him is bound to make things easier.

“I try to help out young guys, whether it’s the guy right next to me or the guy at the 3-spot, or whatever it is,” Sitton said this week. “I have guys that I’ve played next to when I was young — specifically Mark Tauscher, Scott Wells, Chad Clifton and guys like that — that kind of took me under their wing and taught me a few things.

“My approach is my door is always open and Laremy has been good about talking to me. I think we’ve already gotten off on the right foot with the communication and that relationship.”

Miami coach Adam Gase has already noticed the impact early in Organized Team Activities and said, “It’s really a great thing to see how he works, him and Laremy, and how they talk through things and the amount of time they spend with each other.”

The Dolphins drafted Tunsil No. 13 overall in 2016 and played him at left guard because they had left tackle Branden Albert coming off a Pro Bowl season. They unloaded Albert to the Jaguars at the end of the year with the belief that Tunsil would ease back into his natural position, but their o-line issues continued.

Tunsil seemed disappointed almost anytime he discussed his play during the season, and Pro Football focus ranked him No. 47 in the league among all offensive tackles.

“There’s probably a lot of us sitting here that thought it would be an easy transition for him,” Gase said two months ago. “It’s still left tackle in the NFL. I think it was tougher for him than what all of us anticipated.”

Toward the end of the season, however, Tunsil started to settle in at the position.

“I saw a guy that started to notice that it’s not that easy,” Gase continued. “He went to work and he practiced hard and he was great in meetings. The way he was watching film and his development as a professional improved last year. I think he’s excited moving forward, getting Josh in there and working with him, and to really be the guy that he’s wanted to be since he came out.”

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Miami Dolphins LG Josh Sitton faces life-altering decision on hair, beard

Josh Sitton (71) on Day 2 of Dolphins OTAs. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — One of the Dolphins’ biggest personnel moves this offseason was signing bear-in-a-man-costume Josh Sitton to play left guard. He’s a good get, and there’s a good chance he’ll help left tackle Laremy Tunsil improve.

Sitton. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

Sitton said today it was a tough decision coming to Miami because he knew the brutal heat and humidity would be far worse than the conditions in which he practiced while playing for Green Bay and Chicago over the past decade.

He might regret not thinking this through all the way, because after two days of Organized Team Activities in South Florida, he faces the possibility that he might need to shave his Thor-like hair and bushy beard. It was 84 and rising at this morning’s practice, and that’s made much more uncomfortable when it feels like there’s a ferret on the back of one’s neck.

“I’ve thought about it,” Sitton admitted. “I’m going to see how OTAs go and then it might be gone come training camp.”

He played with short hair at Central Florida and began growing it long in the woodsy, frigid climate of upstate Wisconsin. It’s been a trademark of his, and the decision on whether to clean it up isn’t one he’d make lightly.

“No, I would not,” he said. “I would probably cry.”

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Swagger on an offensive line? Josh Sitton brings it to Miami Dolphins

Dolphins guard Josh Sitton has ‘swagger,’ coach Adam Gase says. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Offensive linemen, as a whole, have often basked in anonymity. For years, the Denver Broncos’ linemen wouldn’t speak to the media.

Then along comes a guy like Dolphins guard Josh Sitton.

He’s new to the Dolphins, but already, coach Adam Gase says some things are self-evident.

“You can see he’s a veteran player that has the type of swagger you want from an offensive lineman,” Gase said Wednesday. “He brings confidence with that group. He’s got something about him that’s probably different than a lot of guys that I’ve been around.”

For years, the Dolphins’ offensive line hasn’t exactly inspired confidence. Perhaps the additions of Sitton and center Daniel Kilgore will help change that.

“What’s swagger?” Sitton said when informed of Gase’s comments. “I don’t know about that one.”

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Seriously, Sitton added, “All I know is I bring some veteran leadership and I know how to win in this league. I’ve done it for a long time and I think this whole group as an offensive line can be really good and that’s exciting. So I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”

Once the regular season starts, the line, from left to right, could consist of tackle Laremy Tunsil, Sitton, Kilgore, guard Jesse Davis and tackle Ja’Wuan James.

“I don’t want to jump and say, ‘Here’s what it is. It’s locked in stone,’ ” Gase said. “It’s probably written more in pencil than pen right now.”

Much about this team is. As things fall in place, we’re also starting to see the results of Gase’s concerted effort to improve the culture in the locker room.

Kilgore talked about how he and his family have bonded with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his family. Sitton said shared time like that — away from the game — can be beneficial in the long run.

“We spend so much time here at work, just constantly talking about work,” Sitton said. “And to get out of here and just kind of BS about other things and get to know each other and get to know each other’s families, it just helps build that relationship. When you’re on the field, you can start trusting the guy next to you a little bit more.”

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More than just LG? Miami Dolphins’ Josh Sitton hopes to mentor Laremy Tunsil

Josh Sitton. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

When the Dolphins signed veteran Josh Sitton in an attempt to finally fill a need at guard, they may have also found an avenue toward getting more out of the left tackle position.

Sitton, 31, a former Pro Bowl selection entering his 11th year in the NFL, said when he was talking with the Dolphins about joining them, he brought up the possibility of helping mentor Laremy Tunsil, the former first-round draft pick who endured an uneven 2017, his second season in the NFL but first at left tackle.

“I’ve always been that type of player to give my knowledge or whatever to anybody younger than me,” Sitton said. “Especially going into Year 11 now, I’ve learned a lot of different things. I think it’s your duty as an older guy to bring those younger guys along with you.”

Sitton said younger players breaking into the league tend to have a narrow focus on their own responsibilities rather than taking a big-picture view on how they can help an offense.

“As you grow, you learn these different things, and those are the things that I’ll be able to help them with — just small things from a step here, a step there, an angle here, an angle there. Or watching the linebacker — if he moves over a couple of feet. Just small details things that you don’t think about as a young player.”

It might be natural to ask how Sitton can handle that while trying to adjust to a new team himself, but he’s confident the transition will be almost seamless because he played under Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains in Chicago last year.

“We’ve had a pretty good little friendship over the past couple of years,” Sitton said. “I love his style of coaching. I love his offense. I love the system that they run.”

Sitton said he was in touch with multiple teams but the choice of Miami wasn’t difficult.

“Honestly, it worked out to where I was down here already,” he said. “My wife’s family lives down here in Homestead, so paying my visit was obviously right up the road.

“I would say coach Wash (offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn) and coach Dowell, being down here and the familiarity with those guys played a big part in it for me. And (Ryan) Tannehill coming back and being healthy. I think there’s a lot of good parts to this team that are in place and I think it could be a really good football team. I want to be somewhere where I think we can win and I think we can do that here.”

Sitton said he’s most comfortable at left guard even though as a younger player, he was positioned on the right. Known as one who speaks his mind, sometimes unfiltered, Sitton gave a rather graphic example of what it’s like to switch from the right to the left side of a line.

“I could compare it to trying to wipe your (bottom) with your opposite hand,” he said. “That might be a little bit too much for you.”

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2018 NFL free agents: Dolphins signing Josh Sitton shows philosophy change

Josh Sitton and his amazing beard are headed to the Dolphins. (Getty Images)

The Dolphins have never come out and said this, but the current administration’s moves on the offensive line reveal what they’ve thought about guards: You can find them anywhere.

Their streak of signing under-the-radar free agents and waiting until the late rounds of the NFL Draft to address the position ended today with the agreement to bring in Josh Sitton on a two-year deal worth up to $18 million.

That’s a beefy contract for a beefy man. It’s reasonable, though, and gives them a quality player on the line without compromising any long-term rebuilding plans.

Sitton checks in at 6-foot-4, 320 pounds and was ranked the No. 5 guard in the league last season by Pro Football Focus. He’s a 31-year-old with four Pro Bowl selections and 147 games on his record between a long run with Green Bay and a two-year stop in Chicago (he did not overlap with Adam Gase there).

He’s certainly going to help Laremy Tunsil if Miami plugs him in at left guard. He’s played both guard spots and occasionally filled in at tackle over his 10-year career.

This is a different target than the Dolphins have pursued in the last two offseasons. A year ago, they signed journeyman Ted Larsen to a three-year, $5.7 million contract, scooped up Jesse Davis after he’d bounced around practice squads and waited until the 164th to select a guard in the draft. That pick, Isaac Asiata, wasn’t ready to contribute in 2017.

The 2016 offseason was similar. The Dolphins spent their first-round pick on Tunsil planning for him to move to left tackle as soon as possible, but asked him to do a year at left guard first because they still had Branden Albert. Gase recruited former left tackle Jermon Bushrod to change positions and play right guard.

None of the other names they’ve brought in are particularly recognizable, and not making guard a high priority seems like it’s undercut some of the resources the Dolphins have poured into the line.

They had first-round picks at left tackle (Tunsil), center (Mike Pouncey) and right tackle (Ja’Wuan James) last season, but the line was always suspect. Tunsil and James remain in place with a lot to prove, and the line’s overall challenge is tougher now that Pouncey has been released.

The Dolphins now have three starting caliber guards in Sitton, Davis and Larsen.

Sitton is by far the most accomplished of the group and wouldn’t be choosing Miami if it meant he’d be fighting it out for a starting job. He’s been primarily a left guard the last five years, so that’s probably where he fits with the Dolphins.

That pits Davis and Larsen against each other in one of the most intriguing position battles of Miami’s offseason. Maybe one of them can play center, though third-year man Jake Brendel intends to compete for that spot. The Dolphins worked Larsen at center last spring when they held Pouncey out of Organized Team Activities.

Having Larsen or Davis as a backup is a great option for the Dolphins, and that’s not to be overlooked. They had four players start at least six games at guard last year.

Offensive guard is probably the most boring position on the field to discuss, but it gets a little more interesting for the Dolphins now that they’re swinging big on Sitton.

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With Mike Pouncey’s release, Dolphins enter full slash-and-burn rebuild

Mike Pouncey is done after seven seasons with Miami. (Bill Ingram/The Post)

The Dolphins have fully entered rebuilding mode.

Their offseason unloading now includes longtime center Mike Pouncey, who is being released after refusing to take a pay cut at 28 years old when he believes he’s still in the prime of his career.

Even after dispatching Jarvis Landry to Cleveland and getting out of a massive financial obligation to Ndamukong Suh, the Dolphins still looked like they were trying to fill a few holes and make what they could out of what’s left. This creates a new hole, an enormous one, and the related trade for 49ers center Daniel Kilgore might not be enough to patch it.

Pouncey has been the best offensive lineman on the team for at least the last two seasons and was thought to be a pillar of what would be a revamped o-line. Now he’s a free agent, saving the Dolphins $7 million and salary cap space and a little over $17 million in salary that was earmarked for him in 2019 and ’20.

Pouncey’s played 93 games since Miami picked him No. 15 overall in 2011, making him the highest-drafted center of all time. He’s had at least three known hip surgeries. He’s made the Pro Bowl three times. But the numbers that end in millions are the ones that matter most.

There’s no hiding it anymore. This is a slash-and-burn offseason for the Miami Dolphins.

And teams usually aren’t very good the season after they dump this much talent.

The Dolphins were an inch away here or there from being a 3-13 team last season, and that feels like where they’re headed unless a lot of pieces unexpectedly come together in a way that’s difficult to envision today.

Maybe it’s not so bad, though. It’s going to be brutal to endure this fall, but it’s probably what’s best for the franchise at this point.

This is a departure from wandering aimlessly through the mediocre territory of going 7-9, or something like it, every year. It’s the textbook plan for a rebuild: Clear the books and pile up draft picks.

That’s how teams across sports are doing it, and it’s preferable over the delusion of the Dolphins convincing themselves they’re only a player or two away from contending.

They went 10-6 in Adam Gase’s first season as head coach, making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, but even that felt like a mirage. Gase inherited a team that had won between six and eight games for seven consecutive years, and what he was working with in 2016 wasn’t all that much better.

Of the Dolphins’ 10 wins that season, seven came against teams that went 5-11 or worse. Six of those were one-score games.

Last year was similar, winning on a missed field goal in the opener and rarely looking legitimately impressive outside of a second-half rally in Atlanta and the Monday Night Football stunner against the Patriots. They’ll always have that one.

Rather than keep that group intact after going 16-17 the last two years, counting the time Pittsburgh dismantled them in the playoffs, the Dolphins are blowing it up. No reason to cling to that. This is the right course. The big question now is whether vice president Mike Tannenbaum, general manager Chris Grier and Gase are capable of such large-scale reconstruction.

Everything from here on out will be about setting the team up for 2019, at the earliest, and filling in a few spots to arrive at something resembling a passable starting lineup. They signed four-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton today, too, which is a strong and expensive addition, but wisely is only a two-year deal that won’t infringe on any future plans.

That’s the strategy now, and there’s no denying it.

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