By Ryan S. Clark
DAVIE -- Practice was barely finished and Dolphins rookie offensive linemen Ja'Wuan James and Billy Turner were already talking and walking off the field together.
The way James was motioning with his hand, it would suggest they were talking about blocking or something related to the Dolphins' scheme after rookie minicamp ended Friday. James, the team's first-round pick and Turner, a third-round selection, are seen as pieces to repair what was a porous offensive line in 2013.
Both are aware of what's at stake. The Dolphins will have four new starting offensive linemen this coming season and there's a possibility two of them could be rookies. Promising as it sounds, both James and Turner are aware it is pretty early in the process.
"It's been going good," James said about understanding the offense. "It is a lot of similarities to what [Tennessee Volunteers coach Butch Jones] brought my senior year with the zone read stuff."
Many issues plagued the offensive line last season. There were the off-the-field problems with the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin bullying scandal. It didn't make the season easier given the Dolphins allowed a franchise-worst 58 sacks. They were also 20th or worse in points, total yards, passing yards and rushing yards.
Free-agent tackles Branden Albert and Jason Fox along with guard Shelley Smith were signed to improve the line. Drafting James and Turner reinforced the commitment to make the line better.
James, a tackle, could very well start while Turner would have to make the transition from tackle to guard.
"I think of myself as a versatile guy because the first position I ever played was center, so I did a couple of center reps at the Senior Bowl, too," Turner said. "So being able to go from tackle to center, from center to guard is just one of the abilities I think I have."
Assuming Turner can make the transition and James does start, it would be the first time the Dolphins would have two rookie starters on the offensive line since Jake Long and Donald Thomas in 2008.
The Chicago Bears started two rookie linemen in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills last season. Long, a first-round pick, and Mills, a fifth-round choice, were vital to the Bears being second in points, fifth in passing yards, eighth in total yards and 15th in rushing. Still, the Bears were 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
The Dolphins have had mixed results with offensive linemen recently drafted in the first three rounds. Guard John Jerry, a 2010 third rounder, was serviceable in 10 starts that year. Center Mike Pouncey, the first-round pick in 2011, started all 16 games as a rookie and has become one of the best in the NFL at his position.
Martin, a second-round pick in 2012, struggled while starting all 16 games at tackle in his rookie season. Guard Dallas Thomas, a third-round pick in 2013, was only on the active gameday roster for two games.
Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey said Albert and Pouncey are already serving as mentors.
"I know those guys are talented players," Hickey said of James and Turner. "And through research, we knew they had the make-up that can contribute and help our team."
James said the team hasn't talked with him about their expectations. He continued by saying his priority is to compete for a spot while learning a couple of new techniques.
Turner, who was part of three FCS national title teams at North Dakota State, said he and James were trying to be leaders during rookie camp.
"Our organization, they want leaders to come in here," Turner said. "Yeah we are rookies but we'd like to think of ourselves as leaders among the rookie class."
Sports | May 26, 2014 | Page 1C, 8C
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