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Nate Garner doesn’t just play on the Dolphins offensive line; he plays ALL OVER the offensive line. Left tackle. Right tackle. Center. Right guard. Right tackle. You name it he’s been there. This indeed is a very unusual football player, a player who adds new meaning to the word “versatile.”
I asked Joe Phiblin recently if he remembers another player who could play every spot on the offensive line. “It isn’t very common,” Philbin said.
And then Philbin snapped his fingers. “In a blink of an eye,” Philbin said, “he’ll change positions.”
Center Mike Pouncey misses two games with food poisoning. No problem, Nate Garner can step in. Tackle Jonathan Martin leaves the team and Richie Incognito is suspended. The door is open and Nate Garner walks through.
Think where the Dolphins would be today without Nate Garner. After starting at center in Pouncey’s absence, he was back at left guard against the Jets. Who knows where he’ll line up next.
“Being able to do all of this, it is probably keeping me in the league,” Garner said. “Without this, I might not have made it past my second season.”
There was a game back in 2009 against Carolina. It was a Thursday night and crazy things were happening on the offensive line that necessitated some serious shuffling. So Nate Garner played every position on the line that night except left tackle.
“That was an interesting experience,” he says today. “When it was over, I said to myself: ‘Did that really happen?’”
Ask Nate Garner his favorite position and he doesn’t hesitate. “Wherever I am playing that day.”
Ask him if he has ever known anyone else who could do this and he can only think of one name: “Damien Woody of the Jets could, but that’s all I know about. A lot of others could, but they probably don’t know they can.”
Ask him how many starts he has had at each position and his mind rapidly goes through the years, this being his sixth in the league.
“Left guard six starts.”
“Left tackle zero, but I finished a game for Jake Long a couple of years ago.”
“Center two starts”
“Right guard four starts
“Right tackle five, maybe six, starts.”
How did this all come about? How in the specialized world of the NFL can a player come along who can do all of this and do it reasonably well?
Nate Garner, you see, is a smart man. He understands how fortunate he is to be a member of the NFL’s exclusive fraternity. And he knows that the more he can do, the more positions he can play, the more value he has.
So he started planting the seeds in college at Arkansas. Played a little bit of guard his junior season. Started all of his senior season at right tackle. And after practice, he worked with the back-up quarterback as his center.
“I was taught how to play tackle and guard,” he says. “As for center, I learned that myself. Just a lot of hard work.”
The Jets selected Garner in the seventh-round of the 2008 draft. Later that first summer he was cut by the Jets and claimed by the Dolphins. He has been right here ever since, never a full-time starter, never attracting much attention, but always still around after the final cuts.
That’s the value of being a man for all positions.
“Aw, it’s not that difficult,” Garner says. “Once you understand the concept of a play, you pick things up pretty easily.”
Right side? Left side? Does it make a difference? “Nah, not really,” he says.
The most difficult part, he will tell you, is preparing for every position during the course of the week. Garner, after all, never really knows where home is going to be on any given Sunday.
“Somebody goes down,” he says, “I have to step up.”
Garner is 28 years old. He loves what he does. If he has his way, he’ll keep doing it well into his 30’s. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to make it. What team wouldn’t keep him around? What offensive line doesn’t have room for a player who can do everything?
This massive 6-foot-7, 320-pound man leans against his locker one recent afternoon and smiles.
“It’s nice to be able to be plugged in at any position,” he says. “But truthfully it’s nothing really special.”
Try telling the Miami Dolphins that.
On Thursday, AC in the AM takes a look at Pro Bowl possibilities for the Dolphins.
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