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Can revamped defensive line pave a path to the playoffs? – The Mercury News

Here’s the latest installment of our Miami Dolphins Q&A, where South Florida Sun Sentinel writers David Furones and Chris Perkins answer questions from readers.

Q: Whuddup Perkins! With the evolution of our team’s performance throughout this year, could you forecast our D-Line paving our path into the playoffs? Can they be dominant enough to overcome our other shortcomings as a team?

@JerZeePhinz82 on Twitter

A: I touched on this on Twitter. The defensive line, which added edge rusher Bradley Chubb at the trade deadline, will be asked to carry a heavy load at some point soon. But for now, the offense is largely in charge of paving the playoff path. The offense has coach Mike McDaniel and his creative mind, offensive coordinator Frank Smith, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and they used to have left tackle Terron Armstead (pectoral injury), who we’ll discuss later. That’s a lot of talent and imagination.

But the addition of Chubb means the Dolphins expect big things from this pass rush trio of Chubb, Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram. I’m not sure how much “paving” you can expect this year, however. They will need to do big things during this stretch run, especially with Armstead sidelined, but you can’t expect them to carry the team Sunday as well as they should be able to do in September after they’ve played together for half a season and coaches have learned what they do well. I’m not cutting them slack, just being realistic.

Now, next season they will be expected to be among the top pass rushing units in the league. They’ll be expected to be game-changers. For now, the realistic expectation is for them to be disruptive.

And expanding things to the entire defensive line, where guys such as Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler are playing well, they’ve done a nice job against some top rushers recently (Houston’s Dameon Pierce and Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, in particular). So, yeah, they’ll have big expectations next year. But this year’s playoff path, for now, belongs largely to the offense.

Q: Did you see what happened after Armstead left the game??? –@MattyDolphinz on Twitter

A: It was ugly. Sack after sack after sack. The Dolphins need Armstead badly, obviously. Further complicating things is right tackle Austin Jackson must be watched due to an ankle injury (same ankle he previously injured but not the same injury). We’ll keep an eye on his situation. Keep in mind the right tackle protects Tagovailoa’s blind side.

Having said that, the Dolphins have options to replace Armstead at left tackle. Brandon Shell played left tackle against Houston. He’s a right tackle, and against Houston marked only his second time playing left tackle. The first time was when he replaced Armstead in the Jets game. The Dolphins could also use Greg Little at left tackle. But that’s where the Jackson injury could be an issue because if Jackson is sidelined, both Shell and Little will likely start, one at left tackle and the other at right tackle.

If the Dolphins only need to replace Armstead they could use either Shell or Little. Of course, Jackson is a former left tackle so if he’s healthy perhaps the Dolphins flip him to the left side and insert Shell at right tackle.

But my guess is the Dolphins want as little disruption as possible, so if you only need to replace Armstead they’d probably insert Shell and use Little as a backup swing tackle.

If they must replace both tackles, deciding who plays which side could depend largely on whether they think Shell or Little is better at protecting Tagovailoa’s blind side. Or it might depend largely on who they think is better at which position, and then they add pass protection to either side with tight ends and running backs.

Q: It will make a difference that guys will practice at LT this week. & I’d like to see more roll-outs called for Tua. –@TabbyKeats on Twitter

A: Yeah, as far as making up for the loss of Armstead, it will make a difference that the starting left tackle gets a full week of practice as opposed to being inserted during a game. It also makes a difference the Dolphins have a full week to devise a game plan for 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa (11.5 sacks, third in the NFL). But this will still be an uphill battle for the Dolphins.

As for the Tua rollouts, I’m not certain they’ll opt for that strategy. I think they’ll want to keep Tagovailoa in the pocket, behind his 300-pound pass protectors as opposed to continually being in open space where he can take shots from defenders who have a two- or three-step running start.

Most likely the key for the passing game will be maintaining that timing that’s allowed Tagovailoa to stay upright and throw from a clean pocket. But the timing thing is complicated with Armstead sidelined and the possibility of Jackson also being sidelined.

Q: Hey, Perk, what will transpire on Monday morning after the game: McDaniel and coaching staff are genius because they were able to coach up two back up o-lineman against a good defense to victory or second guess Grier because he never got enough quality depth on o line in offseason –@SSLNYNJ on Twitter

A: Good question. Spoiler alert: I’m picking the Dolphins to win this game. So I’ll say the Monday morning story leans toward McDaniel and the coaching staff are geniuses. But I’m a guy who always credits the players first because it’s a player’s league. So I’d say a player — perhaps Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill, Xavien Howard, even Jason Sanders — gets the headline, or a share of the headline.

Whatever happens you can’t blame general manager Chris Grier. The Dolphins have shown capable depth on the offensive line among subs such as Shell, Little and Robert Jones. Not many teams can go more than two deep.

Q: Is Miami scared they are finally facing a top D? –@bigdadee78 on Twitter

A: I appreciate the question. It looks like you’re a 49ers fan. You’re right about the Dolphins facing a top defense. The 49ers are darn good, and the Dolphins reeled off four consecutive games of 30 or more points during the “soft” part of their schedule. San Francisco’s defense will have the Dolphins’ respect.

But the Dolphins have Tua, Tyreek and Jaylen. I don’t think there’s any fear. Yeah, the Armstead injury is huge. But if you’re the Dolphins you’ve got to think if you can get the ball to Hill and Waddle, that’s half of the offensive battle. You still must be able to protect Tagovailoa (good luck doing that against Bosa) and run the ball, two tough challenges. But McDaniel will have a good game plan. Whether he has the on-field talent to execute that is something different. But the Dolphins won’t have any fear. They can turn a 12-yard pass into a 40-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye.

Q: When will McDaniel give Rob Hunt the ball and unleash his innate ability to create in space? With Mostert hurt and Gaskins good for 2.5 per isn’t he hurting the team by not giving Rob Hunt more touches? Asking for a friend. –@MonteStamper1 on Twitter

A: I love it!! We all know Hunt, the starting right guard, knows what to do when the ball is in his hands. But you bring up an interesting point and that’s whether the Dolphins might unleash a trick play or two. We haven’t seen many. There was the fake punt, and I think receiver Cedrick Wilson was going to throw a pass at one point, perhaps even Hill was looking to throw once (it seems that might have happened but I’m not totally sure), and there have been some jet sweeps and creative ways to get the ball in Hill’s hands. But the offense has leaned toward the creative plays instead of the trick plays.

Have a question?

Email David Furones, or tag @ChrisPerk or @DavidFurones_ on Twitter.

Previously answered:

Are Miami assistants in line for head coaching jobs at season’s end?

How will defense fare on West Coast trip?

Can struggling defense be fixed? Plus, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jason Sanders questions

Should Mike Gesicki have been shopped in trade talks? Why so many penalties?

Is 8-3 with a 5-game win streak in Miami’s future? Does Brandon Shell hold on to RT job?

Why not use Mike Gesicki as WR?

Why has defense taken a step back? Liam Eichenberg concerns? Talk trades with Panthers?

Should we be sold on this O-line; what’s up with Mike Gesicki?

Is Mike McDaniel ready for the moment?

Which rookie could make biggest impact?

What should be expected of DC Josh Boyer?

Is Christian Wilkins next for multi-year extension?

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