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Dolphins need healthy Branden Albert to anchor rebuilt O-line

In the five games Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey played together, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill had an impressive 97.5 passer rating.

Branden Albert openly admits tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee was the most painful thing he's experienced in his NFL career.

But right behind it was watching the Miami Dolphins' offensive line unravel without their premiere left tackle during the final seven games of the 2014 season, which coincided with the team's late-season slide.

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"It took a toll on me," said Albert, who had reconstructive surgery in mid-November, and is walking without a brace and doesn't need the assistance of crutches or a cane. "Things happen in football and I couldn't be there to help my team, but I still have a future ahead of me. I can help this team out next year and that's what I'm going to do."

Albert plans to spend this offseason rehabbing in South Florida and working out with teammate Mike Pouncey. His goal is to regain his old form, however, he realizes he's facing a tough rehab, which is usually a nine to 12 month process.

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"I don't have any dates. I've come a long road. Only time will tell. We'll see," Albert said. "I don't have a timeline. I'm just rehabbing and I'll be here all offseason.

"I have a great staff and I'm working every day. I'm going to keep pushing," Albert said. "I was having a good season. We were winning and everyone was doing good."

Albert allowed three sacks, five quarterback pressures, and committed three penalties in the nine games he played. He was having a season worthy of Pro Bowl consideration before a Detroit defender rolled up on his right leg in the Dolphins' 20-16 loss to the Lions.

Before Albert went down, Miami's offensive line, which finally got Pouncey back from his hip injury, was beginning to click, and so was the offense.

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Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 67.5 percent of his passes during that five game stretch, which produced a 3-2 record and featured two fourth-quarter losses to the Packers and Lions.

Tannehill averaged 242.5 passing yards per game with nine touchdowns and four interceptions during that stretch. He was sacked 11 times during the five games that featured two 2013 Pro Bowlers on Miami's offensive line.

Tannehill's overall passer rating in those five games was 97.5. If that passer rating had stayed consistent it would have been good enough to rank Tannehill as the fifth best passer in the NFL in 2014, behind only Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, and put him just ahead of Tom Brady, who had a 97.4 passer rating.

Without Albert the Dolphins struggled because rookie Ja'Wuan James was called on to play left tackle for the first time ever, and Dallas Thomas, who allowed seven sacks in the 11 games he played, struggled as the new starting right tackle before being benched for the final two games.

Overall, 30 of the 46 sacks the Dolphins allowed occurred in the eight games Albert was hurt, or sidelined.

That five game stretch of games with a healthy Albert and Pouncey should provide General Manager Dennis Hickey the motivation needed to fortify the offensive line this offseason, using free agency and the draft to improve the interior, which features two aged starters — Daryn Colledge and Samson Satele, as free agents.

The Dolphins have Shelley Smith, who started three games at guard last season, coming back, and could use Thomas and Billy Turner, the 2014 third-round pick, as offensive guards if Pouncey moves back to center, which is his goal. But there's no guarantee that Smith, Thomas and Turner will improve.

The Dolphins gained 1,872 rushing yards and scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2014. Miami ranked 12th in rushing yards per game, and was second in yards per attempt (4.7), behind only the Seahawks.

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The problem is only nine teams gave up more sacks than the Dolphins, who allowed a sack every 13 passing attempts. That's why Hickey can't bank on Albert coming back and being the unit's savior.

"My goal is to help this team," Albert said. "I don't know when. I'm not going to set myself up like that. When it's time for me to step up I'll step up." ...

Dolphins signed former South Carolina State receiver Tyler McDonald to contract.

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