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Outside Linebacker in 2011
By on July 8, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Who will emerge as the starter opposite Cam Wake at outside linebacker?

In the Dolphins’ 3-4 defense, there is arguably no position more glamorous than outside linebacker. Last season, Miami’s biggest defensive standout was Cameron Wake, who unleashed himself on the rest of the NFL by recording 14 sacks in just his second season in the league. On the other side, rookie Koa Misi collected 4.5 sacks and even scored a touchdown, thanks to the recovery of a Brett Favre (remember him?) fumble in the endzone Week 2.

Yet with all of the success that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s OLB’s had last season, it’s still a position that a lot of fans have talked a lot about this summer. They’re always asking who the Fins will bring in to complement Wake and so I figured we should take a look at some names, beginning with the one that is closest to home: Misi’s.

All last season, both Nolan and Tony Sparano answered more than their fair share of questions about why there wasn’t as much pressure on the QB from Misi’s side as there was from Wake’s. And the answer that was consistently given was that Misi, a rookie, wasn’t being asked to do the same things that Wake was. I bet there’s a pretty decent chance that changes in 2011. Last year was about getting Koa comfortable at a new position and getting him used to playing in the NFL. This is the year to set him loose. If Misi is the starting OLB opposite Wake on September 12th, I’ll feel very comfortable.

If Misi isn’t the starter, though, who could it be? Let’s not forget about Ikaika Alama-Francis, who played 11 games last year in his second season in Miami and who was supposed to be the Week 1 starter before waking up sick on gameday in Buffalo. It was that illness (and his subsequent weight loss) that opened the door for Misi to play as much as he did.

Outside of the organization, there are a couple of free agent names you keep hearing. One of the guys that might seem to make sense is Manny Lawson, who has played his entire five year career in San Francisco, including three years under then-head coach Mike Nolan. The fact that Lawson was drafted by Nolan has led to plenty of speculation. That said, Lawson had less sacks last season (2.5) than Misi.

Finally, it is probably prudent to mention one of the other free agent possibilities out there: Jason Taylor. After spending the first 11 years of his career in Miami (plus one more in 2009), there’s no doubt that some fans will be calling for JT to make one final encore in a Dolphins uniform. To be fair, playing in Rex Ryan’s defense last year, Taylor had five sacks–more than anyone on the Dolphins not named Wake. Still, a re-reunion seems unlikely. The Fins are building from the ground up with youth and bringing in a one-year guy like Taylor would seem to do little more than stunt the growth of some of the young guys. I do hope that Jason returns to the Dolphins, but that he does so the way Zach Thomas did last year: to sign a one-day contract and retire as a member of the organization.

My personal opinion is that I’d love to see Misi win the job. I think that he can take a big step forward this year and could be asked to do a lot more pass-rushing than he was in 2010. To me, this is the best case scenario: the guy that you draft and develop turns into a difference maker and helps take the defense to the next level.

Who would you like to see start opposite Cameron Wake at outside linebacker?

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Dolphin Dave says:

Once again, Jesse, we are on the same page. I’ve been reading some scouting reports on Misi coming out of Utah and the knock on him was his poor play against the run. We all know how that turned out. I can’t wait to see him unleashed as a pass rusher. Scouts back then called him explosive off the snap and possessing an outstanding motor. Ideal qualities for a pass rusher. Some even projected him as a pass rush specialist because he supposedly struggled against the run. Also, as a UH fan, I would love to see Ikaika Alama-Francis make a bigger impact this year.