DAVIE, Fla. – The mammoth size was apparent on the first day of Miami Dolphins rookie camp. So was the youthful exuberance.
First-year offensive linemen Ja'Wuan James and Billy Turner looked the part of two major building blocks in Miami's 2014 draft class. The Dolphins invested first- and third-round picks, respectively, in hopes that James and Turner can fix Miami's struggling offensive line.
James and Turner have the potential to become Miami's dynamic rookie duo in the trenches. Both were in shape and ready to begin competing for starting jobs when the veterans returned for organized team activities next week.
“It felt good to get back out here,” James said after Friday's practice. “I haven’t played football in a long time. We've been practicing to be track stars through this whole draft process. So it’s good going out there and competing."
Dolphins first-year general manager Dennis Hickey was left with an empty cupboard on the offensive line when he joined the team in January. On the field, Miami’s offensive line allowed a franchise-record 58 quarterbacks sacks and had an inconsistent running game that was ranked 26th in the NFL. There also was a bullying scandal off the field involving three starters: center Mike Pouncey and former guards Richie Incognito and John Jerry.
A major overhaul of the offensive line was needed, and Miami could have as many as four new starters this season. Hickey and the Dolphins are hoping James and Turner are NFL-ready rookies. Both are former team captains and four-year starters with 105 combined collegiate starts.
“Well, I know those guys are talented players, and through our research we felt like they had the makeup that could contribute and help our team,” Hickey said. “So, obviously, that’s why we drafted them. They played a lot of football. They’re both smart and they’re both tough and we’re excited to have them. They’ve done an outstanding job so far.”
Turner will have the hardest time of the two rookies to win a starting job. Miami has an opening at one guard position, but there are a lot of competitors with more NFL experience. Holdovers Nate Garner, Sam Brenner and Dallas Thomas are all potential competitors for Turner this summer, and the coaching staff will not play favorites.
We will know more about Turner's game once he puts the pads on in training camp. At North Dakota State, Turner was known for his mean streak and dominant play against small-school competition. He will try to translate that style to the NFL level.
“I like to hit people. That’s why I play the game, that’s why I play offensive line,” Turner said. “I’m an aggressive guy. ... Coming off the ball being as aggressive as I can is how I play.”