Dolphins offensive line coach addresses center decision, Jackson, Eichenberg and more

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David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The Dolphins continue to mull whether to play free agent pickup Connor Williams at left guard or center this season — a decision that will have a domino effect on multiple positions.

Asked on Friday whether Williams — who was a productive left guard for the Dallas Cowboys — has emerged as a viable option at center, Dolphins offensive line coach Matt Applebaum said:

“We’re in the works of trying to figure out if that’s the answer or not. We’ve seen him at a couple of different positions and see what he’s capable of doing. I know that is not a definite answer but we’re not at that stage yet.

“But I know he’s a talented guy. He’s smart, he’s athletic, he’s strong. He has a lot of want-to to him. He’s really giving us everything we’re asking of him. For as much as he’s played, he’s still a young player. He’s a guy that has a lot of position flex. What his best position will be at the end of the day, we’re still figuring that out.”

Williams took snaps at center in training camp and preseason games for Dallas during his four season there. Though he led NFL guards in penalties last season, he graded out very well in run blocking and pass protection that past two years. He will start somewhere on the Dolphins line after signing a two-year, $14 million contract.

If the Dolphins decide to play Williams at left guard, then Michael Dieter likely would be the center — unless the Dolphins decide to look outside the building. Cleveland’s J.C. Tretter remains the only quality starter still available in free agency.

“Michael Deiter has given us everything we’re asking right now,” Applebaum said. “He’s smart and articulate. He has shown athleticism. I really like working with him. I don’t think there’s one thing where if he does one thing he’s cemented there. I’m optimistic about Michael Deiter right now.”

Does the decision on Williams’ position need to be made by the end of OTAs in mid-June, or can it stretch into training camp?

“I don’t have a definitive date for that,” Applebaum said. “There are going to be a lot of people involved in that conversation. I’m anxious to see how that plays out. I’m encouraged what I’ve seen so far and when it finalizes itself, you guys will see.”

But when asked if he would be worried if the starting center isn’t clear by the midpoint of training camp, Applebaum said: ”I don’t really envision that happening.”

The Williams decision will have ripple effects on the entire line. If Williams plays center, that creates an opening for Liam Eichenberg or Solomon Kindley to be the starting left guard.

Eichenberg generally struggled at left tackle when he replaced Austin Jackson there last season, but played somewhat better in the final weeks.

Asked if Eichenberg is a better guard or tackle, Applebaum said: “I don’t have an answer for that question right now. I just think Liam is a talented young offensive lineman that’s ascending. I think he can be a productive player at multiple positions.”

As for Kindley — who started 13 games as a rookie but just two last season — Applebaum was complimentary.

“So far, Soly has been everything we’ve asked,” Applebaum said. “He works hard for us, attentive in the meeting room, asks great questions, working hard out on the field and is a great dude. I’m encouraged by him, too. I know he has a body of work in the league, still a young player, still ascending into the prime of his lineman life.”

Austin Jackson is being given every opportunity to win the right tackle job, according to a source.

“A.J. is a really talented young guy,” Applebaum said. “He’s been awesome to work with. He’s got position flex as well. He’s actually put some good stuff on tape up to this point. We all know the nature of this position. When some things don’t go well, all of that stuff kind of falls off to the side. I think he’s an ascending player. He’s got the traits to be a productive tackle in the NFL, whether that be left tackle or right tackle.”

Terron Armstead, the Pro Bowl left tackle signed to a five-year, $75 million deal, will anchor the line.

The Dolphins have left Robert Hunt at right guard, where he played well last season. But Applebaum wouldn’t rule out playing him at tackle.

“The door is never closed on anything especially at this stage of the year,” Applebaum said. “He can be productive at multiple positions… He had a nice season last year at right guard, and if that’s where he plays this year, I expect him to be even better.”

Though the Dolphins’ offensive line struggled badly last season, Applebaum said when he reviewed tape, “I was encouraged. I see negative plays like everyone else does but I see a lot of positive plays too. I like to focus on the positive.... When you study what that guy is doing, you see a lot of skill sets.

“And then when you get to know these guys on 1-on-1 basis, you’re like wow, ‘These are really good dudes. They want to be good.’ I’m really encouraged up to this point… There is athleticism and a skill set in our group that fits the offense.”

Applebaum, who coached Boston College’s offensive line last season, is being assisted by Lemuel Jeanpierre, who was moved from offensive line coach (in 2021) to assistant offensive line coach this season.

“I’ve really enjoyed interacting with him, coaching with him, learning from him not just about the personnel but talking ball,” Applebaum said. “This guy is a smart guy. I really like Lem a lot.”