With a nice combination of moves, the Miami Dolphins have transformed their linebackers group over the off-season. In 2010, the unit helped the Dolphins finish sixth in the league in total defense thanks to a Pro Bowl outside linebacker in Cam Wake and a very good inside linebacker in Karlos Dansby. However, with a series of moves this off-season the Dolphins have added depth at the position to supplement talented returning LBs: Wake, Dansby and Koa Misi.
The Dolphins have brought back one of the franchise’s best all-time defenders in Jason Taylor to complement Wake and Misi on the outside. Taylor, who turns 37 next month, still has very good athleticism and has flashed quickness and range during training camp. How will JT be used? Well, Head Coach Tony Sparano gave some insight on that recently to The Finsiders. “He’s a play-eater,” Sparano said. “He’s a guy that can take plays (away from Wake and Misi, which) keeps those bodies fresher and as you’re into the third and fourth quarter, I think from a production standpoint you’re going to get (better production) from the three of them.” I also think Taylor provides leadership and wisdom to less experienced players such as Wake and Misi. The addition of Bryan Cox as the team’s new pass rush coach can also not be overlooked. With former Pro Bowlers Cox and Taylor adding their input, Misi and Wake should be able to take their game to the next level in 2011.
At inside linebacker, the Dolphins signed former Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett to take the spot of Channing Crowder. Burnett was able to show his wide array of skills in the Carolina game as he was able to cover tight ends running seam routes for the Panthers while also being able to chase down a scrambling Cam Newton. Sparano has been impressed with Burnett, particularly noting his range: “He’s done some really good things particularly from a coverage standpoint and some of the blitz stuff as well. This guy has got great range and he can run really well.” The increased in speed and athleticism that Burnett brings over Crowder will be a much-needed asset for a defense that already has an abundance of size and strength.
Behind Burnett and Dansby at inside linebacker are several young players like A.J. Edds who figures to play a key role as a reserve inside linebacker and special teams contributor. Edds was all over the field in first preseason game against Atlanta as he returned from action after missing all of 2010 due to a knee injury he suffered in training camp. Edds knows getting back in game action is a challenge as he told The Finsiders: “It’s a lot of learning on the fly. You can sit back watch all the film you want and see the correct run-fits, it’s a totally different story when you’re the one out there doing it … that just comes from repetition.” And we can expect Edds to get plenty of repetitions for the rest of the preseason as Mike Nolan tries to get his 2010 fourth pick acclimated to the NFL.
Another 2010 draft pick looking to impress is Austin Spitler; however, the second year man out of Ohio State missed the Carolina game due to injury. One of the guys who saw action Friday night in place of Spitler was the newly signed Marvin Mitchell, a member of the 2009 Super Bowl Champion Saints. Mitchell, known mainly as a special teams player with New Orleans, made several nice tackles during the second half of the Carolina game. Rounding out the inside linebackers are David Nixon and Mike Rivera, who are looking excel in the special teams phase of the game to earn roster spots.
Others competing for roster spots at outside linebacker are the versatile Jason Trusnick, a strong special teams player and Ikaika Alama-Francis, who saw substantial action for the Fins last year and is adept at setting the edge for the run defense. Finally, Quinton Spears and Jonathan Freeny are looking to earn their way onto the roster over the next 10 days by making impact plays in practices and in the upcoming games.
Overall, the Dolphins linebacker group appears to be much deeper and more versatile than the group was last year. With Mike Nolan going into his second year of his 3-4 defensive scheme, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nolan unleash some added wrinkles to take advantage of superb athletes like Burnett, Dansby and Wake. The possibilities are many for Nolan and the potential is great. The Dolphins linebackers are a strong group with the ability to help lead the defense into becoming an elite unit in 2011.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.