There is optimism at training camp that the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line will improve from last season solely on the additions of Terron Armstead and Connor Williams. However, for true progress to happen, young blockers Austin Jackson and Liam Eichenberg have to step up, as well.
With the line learning a new offense based largely on wide-zone blocking in the run game under coach Mike McDaniel, Jackson and Eichenberg also must pick up new positions.
Jackson, a left tackle as a rookie in 2020 who was moved inside to left guard last season, has practiced at right tackle through organized team activities and minicamp and into the first week of training camp. Eichenberg, who worked at various positions during his rookie training camp in 2021 before mostly playing left tackle, is now inside at left guard.
“I’ve always had a pride in playing tackle,” said Jackson, moving back to his natural position, albeit on the opposite side which protects left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s blind side. “I got drafted as a tackle. I’ve always had my own selfish pride about playing tackle. That’s my own personal thing, but overall, glad to play wherever.”
Eichenberg said he didn’t receive an explanation from the new offensive staff on the move, but he has seen steady improvement to the point of receiving the orange jersey at Friday’s practice. The jersey is given to the player who had the best practice the day before.
“I got a phone call, and they were like, ‘Hey, we’re going to have you try this out and maybe some other stuff,’” Eichenberg said. “It has stuck so far, so I’m kind of just focusing on that, trying to improve every single day. Work on my footwork, my hands, clean up my pass [protection].
“I just got to keep on improving every single day. New stuff pops up today that didn’t happen yesterday, so kind of got to go back to the basics, the fundamentals and clean it up.”
Jackson believes the wide-zone scheme, which works to get defenses moving laterally to then attack upfield in the ground game, suits his game.
“They definitely wanted to utilize my athleticism in this offense,” Jackson said on feedback he has received from coaches. “I’ve made great strides and got great coaches working behind me getting me better.”
Said Eichenberg: “This offense is, for me personally, a good fit. It’s kind of similar to what we did at Notre Dame running off the ball. It’s been going well.”
Both made changes with their body in a key offseason for the two. Jackson got his body fat down 8 percent, decreasing his weight to a “really lean” 310 pounds after being in the upper 320s at the same time last year.
“I had a really great offseason,” Jackson said. “I won’t say good. I’ll say great.”
Eichenberg said he gained six or seven pounds for the move inside to guard by lifting heavier while cutting body fat by running. He added that it benefited him to not have to train for combine tests of the bench press and 40-yard dash like he did last offseason, focusing on football workouts and overall strength.
Eichenberg reached out to Jackson after he made the same move from left tackle to left guard in-season last year, but he has mostly learned from Williams, who is playing center for the Dolphins after four years at guard with the Dallas Cowboys.
“I’ve been trying to listen to Connor because he played left guard in Dallas for so long,” Eichenberg said. “Whenever I have an issue, I just go to Connor.”
The biggest voice for the offensive line group, of course, has been Armstead, whom Jackson said has helped the young blockers the most with technique tips.
“He is a technician,” Jackson said. “Definitely hearing a lot of his teaching points on just having good body leverage and just having tools to utilize your athleticism with technique. It’s definitely been very helpful with him. Definitely a big vet for us, so a lot of knowledge there.”
Armstead sees potential in the two, even if they had their struggles last season.
“Just the will, the intent,” Armstead said. “I’ve been impressed with their level of work, the time they’re putting in before and after in the meeting room. Everything. It’s just a really impressive group.”
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