Dolphins rookie tackle Jonathan Martin takes a lot of pride in his craft, and wants to be the best. And the best offensive tackles, in his view, all play on the left side.
Now with Jake Long lost for the rest of the season with a torn triceps, Martin will switch to left tackle this Sunday against the 49ers after starting the first 12 games of his career on the right side. Utility backup Nate Garner will start at right tackle.
"I think anyone who is in the NFL and an offensive tackle wants to play left," Martin said Wednesday. "I'm going to make the most of it, and prove that I belong there."
If Martin does prove he belongs at left tackle, it could mean the end of Long in a Dolphins uniform. Long is an impending free agent, and he could fetch a monster contract on the open market even though he has suffered several injuries over the last two years and his performance has dropped.
And Martin will be tested right away, as he and the Dolphins will face one of the league's fiercest defenses in San Francisco. The 49ers are No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed (14.2 per game), second in total yards allowed and their coach, Jim Harbaugh, knows Martin intimately from their days together at Stanford.
The 49ers also have one of the league's best pass-rushing duos in Justin Smith, who received votes last year for Defensive Player of the Year, and second-year linebacker Aldon Smith, who quietly leads the NFL with 17.5 sacks.
"He's a beast," Martin said of Aldon Smith. "That left side of the defense is really talented. It will be a big challenge."
Martin is no stranger to left tackle, having started 37 games there in college. He said he feels "pretty darn comfortable" playing there, even after spending the entire season on the right side.
"It's different, but luckily the kid has a lot of experience with it," coach Joe Philbin said. "It's still keeping your body in between the defender and the quarterback. That hasn't changed. Slight mechanical things your body has to get used to, but it's not that big of a difference."
As for losing Long, who was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, the players said they will definitely miss his presence over the final four games.
"You can't replace a guy like Jake," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "I think that the guys we bring in will do a good job -- moving Jonathan over and then bringing Nate in on the other side. They'll do a good job for us, but it's tough to replace a player like Jake who's been to four Pro Bowls."