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If Dolphins need to retool the offensive line, NFL combine has building blocks

Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson knows all about the importance of working in unison with teammates.

Last year, he took a gospel choir class on campus, a course the 6-3, 334-pound lineman acknowledged took him out of his element but was rewarding.

“It’s just kind of a team game, too,” Powers-Johnson said Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “How to work with different sounds and be a part of a team and just getting out of my comfort zone. Big lineman in the gospel choir class, you walk in [and] everybody’s like, ‘Who’s this guy?’”

Powers-Johnson is most known, though, for being the conductor of one of the best offensive lines in college football this past season. And he was at the center of the group’s success, making line calls and executing blocking schemes.

Of all the Dolphins’ needs this offseason, none is greater than the offensive line. A trio of starters — center Connor Williams, right guard Robert Hunt and left guard Isaiah Wynn — will become free agents at the start of the new league year on March 13. For that reason, Powers-Johnson has been a popular mock draft pick for the Dolphins with the No. 21 overall pick.

Miami’s top decision-makers met with Powers-Johnson at the combine this week, spending time with arguably the top interior offensive line prospect in the draft.

Jan 30, 2024; Mobile, AL, USA; National offensive lineman Jackson Powers-Johnson of Oregon (58) sets up a play during practice for the National team at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2024; Mobile, AL, USA; National offensive lineman Jackson Powers-Johnson of Oregon (58) sets up a play during practice for the National team at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

“Amazing team. Amazing [general manager]. It was just a great time, too,” Powers-Johnson said. “Something that really [stuck out] to me about the Dolphins is just how young [Mike McDaniel] is. [That is] something I can relate to. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It just matters how good you are. And even though he’s young, he’s an amazing coach. I’d be honored to play for him and play for an amazing GM and an amazing offensive line coach.”

Powers-Johnson, who turned 21 in January, knows a lot about excelling without a ton of experience. The 2023 season was his first as a full-time starting center in college. He adjusted well, though, winning the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the top center in college football.

“The big growth I had was just kind of starting to really take over and command the offense,” he said. “And having that in-game situation, high-pressure situations, that’s where I really grew.”

On a conference call last week, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah praised Powers-Johnson’s combination of size and speed, which would make him an ideal fit for McDaniel’s zone-based running scheme.

“It’s hard to find guys that big that can move like that,” Jeremiah said. “334 pounds. You can’t get through him. He just kind of catches guys and absorbs them in pass pro. He is quick to the second level and good on combo blocks. He has some nasty to him. He is a bulldog. Got some real snap and pop in his hands.”

He added: “I think he’s going to find his way into the bottom portion of the first round. He’s too clean of a player, and it’s just somebody that can anchor your offensive line for the next decade.”

Mar 2, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oregon offensive lineman Jackson Powers-Johnson (OL58) talks to the media during the 2024 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oregon offensive lineman Jackson Powers-Johnson (OL58) talks to the media during the 2024 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

General manager Chris Grier said at the combine that the team is going to give Williams time to make a decision in free agency as he continues to rehab the torn ACL he sustained in December. Powers-Johnson has played snaps at all interior spots and has even taken a few at right tackle, so he could play center or move to guard if the Dolphins re-sign Williams.

Jeremiah said that along with Powers-Johnson, Duke’s Graham Barton and West Virginia’s Zach Frazier are the top centers in the draft and “plug and play” prospects. Like Powers-Johnson, Barton and Frazier also have position versatility.

Barton, 6-5 and 314 pounds, played left tackle the last three seasons and made six starts at center as a freshman in 2020. Barton was also one of the top-rated guards in the country as a high school recruit. Frazier, 6-3 and 314 pounds, spent his freshman season at left guard in 2020 before moving to center for the last three seasons.

As the Dolphins still await a decision on left tackle Terron Armstead’s retirement plans, Grier said the Dolphins may have to sign multiple linemen in free agency. And though Miami’s offense finished first in yards and showed improvement in the running game in 2023, advanced metrics showed continued struggles in pass protection that suggest upgrades are necessary.

With limited cap flexibility and other needs to address, the draft could be a logical source for cheap but effective starters.

“At the end of the day, I thought [offensive line coach] Butch [Barry] and Mike and [offensive coordinator] Frank [Smith] did a great job developing those guys,” Grier said. “Some of the younger guys that we have on the roster are guys we are excited for seeing them in another year here going. Those guys made a great leap this year, and they’re excited for some of the guys and what they can be in the future. But yeah, we’ll definitely end up having to add some players there at that position.”