Is Dolphins' offensive line healthy enough to protect Jay Cutler?

Thursday's preseason game would be the first time Mike Pouncey has played since November. Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

Much has been written about the Miami Dolphins' quarterback position after a season-ending knee injury forced the team to switch from Ryan Tannehill to free-agent pickup Jay Cutler.

But an under-the-radar issue Miami's dealt with all training camp is the health of its offensive line.

The Dolphins played their second preseason game last week, which was Cutler's Miami debut, without three starters on their offensive line. Left guard Ted Larsen (bicep) is expected to miss most of the year, center Mike Pouncey (hip) is working his way back from offseason surgery and right tackle Ja'Wuan James (shoulder) has been in and out of practice. In addition, top reserve Kraig Urbik (knee), who was competing at left guard and taking snaps at center with Pouncey sidelined, likely will not be ready for the regular season.

Pouncey and James returned to practice and the plan is to get them some preseason playing time. Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Pouncey will play in Thursday's third and most important exhibition game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It will be a good chance for Cutler to build chemistry and play for the first time with most of his starting offensive line intact before the regular season.

“Now it's trying to get Jay caught up, get those guys together and start working and figure out what are we going to do at left guard,” Gase said. “We're rolling quite a few guys in there. When Pouncey's in there, all of a sudden it starts looking like what we think it's going to look like. We're still trying to get Ja'Wuan a little healthier than what he was last week, and I think [Monday] was a good step for him to get out there in full pads and just seeing how he feels.”

The Dolphins, whose five starters have yet to play together in the preseason, have invested a ton of resources into their offensive line. Pouncey, James and starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil are all former first-round picks. Starting right guard Jermon Bushrod is a veteran free-agent pickup, and the left guard spot currently open with Larsen and Urbik sidelined.

The most important piece is Pouncey, a former Pro Bowl center who is returning from back-to-back major hip surgeries. He's one of the NFL's top centers when healthy, calls the protection, and works closest with Cutler on every play.

If Pouncey plays Thursday, it will be his first game action since Nov. 13, 2016.

“I've been in this situation where I haven't played any preseason games and missed the first four games of the season and came back and played well,” Pouncey said recently. “I'm not too much concerned about it. The competitor in me wants to be out there and go out there and do the plays that the rest of the first-teamers are doing.”

Miami's left guard spot remains a mystery. Anthony Steen, a converted center, and Jesse Davis, a converted offensive tackle, are currently the two favorites.

Davis may have the inside track after impressing the coaching staff during training camp and the first half of preseason.

“He's a guy that's been in our program for a minute here and he's done a good job of finding a way to get better every day and I've really been impressed,” Gase said. “He's had to play a lot of snaps already, and to see -- I think in both [preseason games] he might have played almost the entire game. He's getting a lot of experience there.”