Looking at the Man in the Middle

Throughout the offseason evaluations, one position was considered a glaring hole. With Ted Karras a free agent following the season, the Dolphins had no clear starting center; a position which is becoming one of the most important in football, a position left wanting since Mike Pouncey left in 2017.

As free agency neared, speculation grew of the prospect of bringing Corey Linsley and then David Andrews to Miami. Despite signing Matt Skura to a one year $1.75m contract, fans remained dissatisfied, as one by one Landon Dickerson, Creed Humphrey and Quinn Meinerz were repeatedly passed on by the Dolphins during the 2021 draft.

There is currently a rhetoric that the Dolphins’ front office does not value the center and running back positions like many others do. Let us not forget the fact that Brian Flores remains the Dolphins Head Coach, a man who is on his fourth offensive line coach during his tenure in charge of the team. For a team with a young QB, the center is the most important position on the line calling the protections, communicating with his fellow linemen as to where the pressure is coming, allowing the skill position players to make the plays.

As defenses become more complex, the center has to adjust. Whilst Ted Karras brought leadership and helped mentor a very young line featuring 3 rookies, one particular area he struggled was when presented with a stunted blitz. Coming into Tua’s second all important season, how will the center position fare?

Matt Skura

After going undrafted in 2016, Matt Skura has since started 51 games during the past four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. On March 18 the Dolphins signed the 6-3 313 pound Skura to a one year $1.75m contract making him their presumed starting center. Throughout his early seasons with the Ravens, Skura was considered one of the NFL’s best centers.

However, his 2020 season was overshadowed to say the least by several botched snaps out of the shotgun formation, most notably in heavy rain in the Sunday Night Football matchup against the Patriots. In week 11 Skura was benched in favor of Patrick Mekari, before eventually starting three of Baltimore’s final six games.

It is safe to say Raven’s fans were not all too impressed, with Skura’s family even receiving threats following the game.

“You’ve got to know your rhythm and you’ve got to first be able to identify the mistakes. I know we’ve talked to you guys about linemen. We dont make excuses. The difference between an excuse and a reason is very slight… What we do is we just rep it. It has to be multiple reps over and over again. Like when we are doing drills, he’s doing it pre-practice, he’s doing it of course during practice, he’s doing it even after practice. You want to do it before something happens. So if it doesn’t feel right, even if you didn’t get a good snap, you want to get more snaps anyway to be preventative, not reactive.”

“He’s been snapping like crazy because that’s the type of guy he is, where he took that really personal. It’s another chip on his shoulder like a lot of the guys on the line are. He’s worked at it. I’ll be preventative and so will he. We talk to the quarterbacks.”

Offensive Line Coach Lemuel Jeanpierre speaking to media May 24 at the start of voluntary OTAs

ESPN ranked Skura the 4th highest center in the NFL in terms of his pass blocking ability, whilst ranking 10th in win rate in his run blocking, an area where the Dolphins struggled in 2020, as the line failed to consistently open running lanes for the backs. Skura played 661 offensive snaps, allowing only three penalties, and one sack in comparison with Karras’ two sacks allowed. We all know Brian Flores’ emphasis on being disciplined in not giving away penalties and making the opposition beat you, rather than beating yourself through penalties.

Throughout the course of researching for this article I reached out to the guys at Ravens ATB for their insight into Skura’s abilities. Skura was described as “a solid starter who proved to be an intelligent center with a great run blocking ability. Skura has a great motor who fights hard on every play.” From this it is very easy to see how he is a fit into the culture that Brian Flores/Chris Grier have created in assembling this roster.

However, they went on to state that in their opinion the successful heavy running scheme that the Ravens deploy “masked a lot of his deficiencies… he is a mediocre pass protector at best and when the Ravens were forced to pass he had trouble holding up in that area.”

With Miami’s young projected starters on the offensive line featuring a rookie and three players coming off their rookie season, it will be evident early on whether his run blocking skills were a reflection of his abilities, or his surrounding support cast in Baltimore.

From his extremely limited time with the Dolphins spanning voluntary OTAs and minicamp, so far so good. We have heard everything we want to hear when it comes to our starting center…absolutely nothing. No reports of botched snaps, even during the monsoon that hit Davie FL day one of minicamp. If Skura can continue to address his snapping concerns he is set to be a solid starting center, not a league leader, but a solid figure in the middle of the line.

If not, the Dolphins cannot afford to hamper Tua, nor the offense with the potential for the wildcat with Lynn Bowden, with a center that cannot snap the ball with consistency leading to unnecessary turnovers like what happened in Baltimore.

Michael Deiter

Although I have every confidence that Matt Skura will be the starting center, if he is not whether based on performance or injury, it will ultimately fall on former Wisconsin Badger Michael Deiter to steady the ship.

2019 was a year to forget for Deiter, the offensive line and the entire organization as a whole. In his rookie season playing primarily at left guard he played 996 snaps allowing 6 sacks (T-2nd most) and 5 penalties. If we conclude that it is not fair to judge Tua based on his rookie season, it seems only fair not to put too much weight on Deiter in the worst offensive line in the league, where his left tackle was changed from Pro-Bowler Laremy Tunsil to Julien Davenport in late August. The 2019 unit allowed a quick pressure within 2.5 seconds on 33% of their dropbacks and were the worst unit and run blocking in the NFL. The entire line was purged in 2020 and completely revamped with the team electing to go in the direction of experience and stability in the form of Ted Karras and Ereck Flowers.

In 2020 Deiter only played 23 snaps, allowing no sacks and no penalties. In the rare glimpses we saw, most notably against the Patriots where following injury to Solomon Kindley, Deiter helped the line in arguably its best performance of the season. Despite having not played a single snap all season beforehand, Deiter helped the offensive line to finally establish both pass and run blocking, whereby Salvon Ahmed became the first 100yd rusher for the Dolphins since Kalen Ballage in 2018 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Skura as it stands, Deiter will have every opportunity to compete during camp to be at the very least a versatile quality depth piece at all three spots on the interior offensive line, or perhaps even a starter once more. Fins Up!

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2 thoughts on “Looking at the Man in the Middle

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