Miami Dolphins OT Zach Sterup could be on brink of first NFL start

Zach Sterup (right) in his days at Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

DAVIE — There are plenty of good reasons for Dolphins offensive tackle Zach Sterup to say he’s loving Miami.

For starters, he might start Sunday’s finale against the Buffalo Bills. Sterup said he saw time with the first team in Thursday’s practice. Regular left tackle Laremy Tunsil was out with an ankle injury. And given that the game has no playoff implications for the Dolphins, it’s a good opportunity to test younger players.

Sterup, the tallest Dolphin at 6-feet-9, has played five games in his NFL career, all with Miami, but Sunday would be his first start. He has worked with the starters in practice before without starting, so there’s no guarantee what his role will be Sunday.

A second good reason Sterup is enjoying South Florida is it means he’s not back home in Nebraska in December.

“I saw a couple of my friends’ Snapchats and it was 2 degrees there this morning when they woke up,” Sterup said Thursday. “And I think it’s chilly and it’s 70 here.”

Sterup probably never thought he’d say such a thing, having grown up in Nebraska and having attended the University of Nebraska. But then again, he probably never expected to have a Christmas like this one.

“This is the first Christmas where I actually went to the beach a little bit,” Sterup said. “It was packed. You can’t do that in Nebraska. One, there’s not a beach. Two, if there was, it’d be frozen water. So yeah, it was different, for sure.”

While it may have been natural to text his frigid friends about the balmy conditions here, Sterup did not do so. He plans to stick around until mid-January. Then he’ll be back in Nebraska himself.

“And it’ll be like, the joke’s on me, because they’re all used to it,” Sterup said. “I kind of miss it, though. You know, I like sweatshirts and being bundled up and blankets by the fire.”

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6-9 Miami Dolphins tackle Zach Sterup goes 1-on-1 vs. 5-5 reporter, and things get loopy

Zach Sterup (right) in his days at Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

DAVIE — Zach Sterup, the newest Dolphin, was sitting at his locker when I approached to chat.

We saw eye to eye just perfectly.

Record-keepers are searching far and wide to confirm whether a record was set in the minutes that followed, a reporter spotting a player 16 inches while still managing to conduct an interview without a bullhorn. Sterup, an offensive tackle, stands 6-feet-9, making him one of the tallest Dolphins ever. I’m listed at a Jakeem Grant-ish 5-5, making me a bug on Sterup’s windshield.

Here’s how it went:

HH: Did you notice the discrepancy between your height and mine?

ZS: Yeah. A little bit. Pretty subtle.

HH: Name one thing you think I can do that you can’t.

Sorry, Zach Sterup not allowed here. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

ZS: I can’t ride a lot of roller coasters and I really enjoyed them when I was kid. But there’s a place, Cedar Point in Ohio, that’s famous for its roller coasters and there’s probably 30 of them there and I could ride like six of them because I was too big.

HH: You show up at the Avis counter and all they have is a Ford Focus. How ugly does it get?

ZS: Not bad. Right now I’m driving a Nissan Altima and that works quite well. My first car — I was a sophomore in high school, so I was probably 6-6 at that time — it was a Toyota Camry. And I had that probably till I was 6-8. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing, obviously, but it was functional. I try to squeeze. Airplanes aren’t fun.

HH: Did you ever sit in the middle seat?

ZS: I try not to. Usually people are like, ‘Hey, man. Take my exit row.’ And usually people understand when I check in, ‘Yeah, we’re going to either upgrade you or put you in a more comfortable seat.’

HH: They usually downgrade me. Hotel beds? Do you hate ’em?

ZS: I’ve never had a problem. Sometimes I have to sleep in socks in the winter with my feet off the bed. But that’s about it.

HH: You and I in a 110-meter hurdles race. Who wins?

ZS: Are you going under ’em?

HH: Yeah. I go under, you go over. Who wins?

ZS: Uh, I’d say I’d probably win.

HH: How many times have you heard, ‘How’s the weather up there?’

ZS: I get something every day, something smart that somebody thinks they’re the first person telling me it, that I’ve never heard it before. I’d say it’s an average of, ‘How tall are you?’ or ‘You’re tall’ or ‘How’s the weather?’ or something smart. Probably two or three times a day. It’s just part of my life, man.

HH: Age that you could dunk?

ZS: Sixteen. Even in high school I didn’t have leg strength. I was a skinny guy. I was 265 coming out of high school. I didn’t really work my lower body. So then I got to college and I put on a bunch a weight but I could jump higher. It’s weird how that works.

HH: How’s it feel to dunk a basketball? I wouldn’t know, although that might surprise you.

ZS: Oh, it’s just like a layup. It counts for two, right?

HH: Sometimes they say if you make more money you should pay more taxes, that sort of thing. Would you be in favor of a tariff on pants that fit you versus pants that fit me? Would that be fair?

ZS: Well, you know it’s a lot harder to find pants that fit me, I would say. Usually if I find something that fits, I buy it. No matter of it’s my style or not. Like, ‘Hey, it works. I can wear it. It’s comfortable. I’m getting it.’ I’m not sure. I probably use a lot more fabric than you would. So you have a point. But at the same time, I don’t know …

Shaquille O’Neal, doing big things. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

HH: Your Cleveland Browns bio says, ‘Can change a light bulb without getting on a ladder.’ Is that true?

ZS: Well, yeah, I can just reach up and change it. So that’s one thing that I could probably do that you can’t.

HH: Shaquille O’Neal once told me, ‘Big people are put on this earth to do big things and little people are put on this earth to do little things.’ He actually said this to me. I wanted to say, ’Thanks, Shaq.’ So what do you think of that?

ZS: Ah …

HH: You won’t hurt my feelings.

ZS: I think it’s on an individual basis. You can do anything you want. So I’m not going to label you as a short person, tall person. You’re a person, you do what you want.

HH: So can I play right tackle?!

ZS: You can play right tackle. You might struggle a little bit more than a bigger guy would. Hey, sign you up.

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Miami Dolphins sign Zach Thomas! (Sorry, but he’s an OT who never heard of that other guy)

Zach Sterup (right) in his days at Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

DAVIE — For years, Dolphins fans have wished the team could just land another Zach Thomas.

This week, they have.

Just don’t expect him to make many tackles.

When the Dolphins signed a 6-foot-9 player off the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad, they landed offensive tackle Zach Sterup — also known on his birth certificate as Zachary Thomas Sterup.

While fans might grin at the coincidence, Sterup didn’t.

For Zach Sterup’s benefit, we present: That other Zach Thomas

He’d never heard of that other Zach Thomas — and when was Zach Thomas ever referred to as “that other Zach Thomas?”

“I wasn’t a football fan growing up, so I didn’t watch him,” Sterup said Thursday.

Sterup was glad to hear his namesake was one of the Dolphins’ all-time greats. And there’s no telling how he might feel the first time he enters Hard Rock Stadium and sees his name on the Dolphins Honor Roll — the first player who could say that without even having played a down for the Dolphins.

“I’m so pumped to be here with an organization that has the history this place does,” Sterup said. “And then just meeting my teammates — just glad to be here, happy to get the opportunity.”

Sterup could be forgiven for not being aware of Thomas.

“Basketball was my first love growing up,” he said. “I always thought I was going to play basketball in college and hopefully pro and my junior year during football season, I just learned to love the game and the offers started rolling in and I chose football. I wish I could play more basketball. I still love it.”

His high school in Nebraska won three consecutive state championships with Sterup despite an enrollment of about 125 while competing against much larger schools.

Sterup got the call at about 8:30 Monday evening and was on a flight to South Florida 12 hours later.

His arrival comes as guard Ted Larsen is coming off injured reserve but right tackle Ja’Wuan James is an uncertainty because of a hamstring injury.

“You’re kind of in that part of the season where guys are starting to get banged up and when you lose a guy, you’re not sure how long he’s going to be out,” coach Adam Gase said. “Any time we can get a guy that can come in and we feel like can help, or we can develop, we’re going to take a chance on him.”

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Miami Dolphins concerned RT Ja’Wuan James could be out long term

Right tackle Ja’Wuan James could be out more than just this week. (AP)

DAVIE—The injury that forced Dolphins right tackle Ja’Wuan James out of Sunday’s game against the Raiders could jeopardize his season.

The team is continuing to assess what was initially listed as a hamstring injury in his left leg, and coach Adam Gase says they are looking for a secondary medical opinion. He added that it’s unclear whether the issue is in his hamstring, as opposed to another nearby body part. Trainers appeared to be checking his knee on the field.

James was nowhere near able to practice today, and it remains “a possibility” that he will be out well beyond Monday’s game at Carolina.

“I just don’t know,” Gase said. “I don’t have all the information… He’s getting some second opinions and things like that to make sure whatever we decide to do this year, whether it’s long term or short term—We just need to figure all that out.”

If James is out, the Dolphins will consider several options to replace him. Veteran tackle Sam Young filled in for him against Oakland, but with Ted Larsen returning at left guard it’s possible Jesse Davis could move from there to right tackle.

James, now in his fourth season, has been hit and miss according to Gase. However, Pro Football Focus ranks him the 10th-best tackle (right or left) in the NFL this season.

“I think Ja’Wuan’s had some really good games, then he’s had some games where I’m sure he would say he wished he played a little better,” Gase said. “I think that’s been the story of the first half of our season: inconsistent across the board with everybody on offense. (Mike) Pouncey’s the only one I can say every game I’m seeing the same things that are good.”

When pressed as to whether James is at least playing better than last season, Gase said, “I think he’s had some games that were head and shoulders better than any games he had last year. There was probably about three games that were really, really outstanding.”

James is playing the fourth season of his rookie contract after Miami drafted him No. 19 overall in 2014. The team exercised his option for next year in May, and he is set to make $9.3 million next season.

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